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Port of Los Angeles container volumes ease in June after Yantian export slowdown

Container throughput at the Port of Los Angeles remained at historically high levels in June but eased from the previous month as imports were affected by a slowdown in exports at China's Yantian port.

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The port handled 876,430 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in June, an increase of 26.7% year on year but a drop of 13.4% from May's record total of 1.01 million TEUs, the port said on July 14. Total imports dropped to the lowest level in three months at 469,554 TEUs.

"We're still averaging more than 900,000 TEUs each month and every month since last July," Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said. "Before the pandemic, 900,000 TEUs was a strong peak season month by itself. This truly has been a remarkable run."

The downturn in port volumes in June can be linked to a COVID-19 outbreak among workers at Shenzhen's Yantian port in South China in May, which led to restrictions being put in place that curtailed operations at Yantian and led to a spillover in ship traffic at other ports in the region.

"About one-third of all of our vessel services that call here in LA originate from this region" Seroka said. "Vessels arriving here slowed somewhat in June as Guangdong province operated at about 50% of normal ship departure capacity. The South China seaports resumed normal operations late in the month of June, which means more ships started to head our way here during this month in July and into August."

This could cause total container throughput and import volumes to rebound in July. The port forecast that it would receive 452,743 TEUs of imports in the last three weeks of July, which could cause the number of ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay to increase again from the 17 at anchor there on July 14, according to cFlow, Platts trade flow software.

Seroka said 51% of vessels arriving in the San Pedro Bay off the coast of Los Angeles went directly to anchor instead of berthing at the port, down from 90% in February and the lowest level since ships began to anchor at arrival in October 2020.

But the dwell time for unloaded containers at the terminals was 4.8 days in June, very near its peak of 5 days in February, which indicates that more progress in reducing the strain on drayage and warehousing operations.

Loaded container exports from Port of Los Angeles in June hit the lowest level since 2005 at 96,067 TEUs amid stronger demand in Asia for empty containers. The port exported 310,810 TEUs of empty containers in June.

Platts Container Rate 13 – North Asia to West Coast North America – were assessed at $6,600/FEU on July 14, while back-haul rates from West Coast North America to North Asia were assessed at $1,000/FEU.