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The Port of Long Beach posts busiest February on record amid ongoing import rush

Highlights

Loaded imports up 50.3%

Carriers still prioritizing empty exports

Houston — The Port of Long Beach handled 771,735 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) in February, as trans-Pacific container trade remained unusually active, and consumer demand for e-commerce goods grew, the port said March 10.

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This marks an increase of 43.3% over the same month last year, when Chinese factories shuttered and trade began to slow down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But this year, many Chinese exporting hubs remained open to help alleviate growing cargo backlogs.

"Although activity typically slows in February as East Asian factories close for up to two weeks to celebrate the Lunar New Year, China largely worked through the holiday to fill back orders and meet the increasing demands of consumers ordering items online," the port said in a statement March 10.

Loaded inbound containers grew by 50.3% year over year to 373,756 TEU.

And container rates have reflected rising import volumes. Platts Container Rate 13 – North Asia to West Coast North America – was assessed $4,000/FEU on March 10, up significantly from the $1,250/FEU assessment on the same date a year ago.

Empty exports see continued growth

But the greatest increase was seen in empty container exports, which grew by over 71% to 265,431 TEUs. This comes as many carriers are heard prioritizing empty containers in order to accelerate the re-loading process.

"In LA and Long Beach, truckers are returning empties faster than steamship lines can move them," said one US-based freight forwarder. "It's no wonder carriers are so quickly repositioning, much to the chagrin of US ags exporters."

The Port of Long Beach is the second largest container gateway in North America, behind the adjacent Port of Los Angeles. The port has handled just over 1.535 million TEUs so far in calendar year 2021, up 31.8% on the year.