Container imports at U.S. seaports rose sharply in April and are expected to continue that trend in May, as retailers and manufacturers react to the Trump Administration's latest round of threats to boost tariffs on Chinese goods.
American companies pay for any tariffs on imported freight, often passing on that cost to consumers in the form of higher prices. In an effort to dodge that increased cost of doing business, retailers tend to stock up on goods before the new regulations kick in, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said today.
That pattern recently played out in December, while the last trade war loomed, and the latest numbers show that importers have kept their foot on the gas pedal ever since.
The Port of Los Angeles said today that it had handled 736,466 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in April, up 4.4 percent compared to last April and marking the busiest April in its 112-year history. And April was no fluke; for the first four months of 2019, Los Angeles' port volumes have increased 4.5 percent compared to the same period last year.
"With three-plus years of record throughput, we are focused on partnering with our stakeholders to refine operations for even greater efficiencies," Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said in a release. "Despite heightened uncertainty in global trade, we continue to invest and prepare our infrastructure and services to provide the best value for our customers."
The high water mark is significant because of the sheer bulk of freight flowing through the port. The Port of Los Angeles facilitated $284 billion in trade during 2017, making it North America's leading seaport by both container volume and cargo value.
However, smaller ports also showed similar patterns. The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) reported that it had moved 204,621 TEUs across its Wando Welch and North Charleston container terminals last month, a 4.2 percent increase compared to April 2018 volumes.
In another sign of growth, SCPA said that Sunday's arrival of the massive containership Yang Ming World—stretching 1,208 feet long and 168 feet wide—marked the largest vessel ever to call at the port.
"April was strong for SCPA's container business, supporting volumes well above planned levels with only two months remaining in the fiscal year," Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO, said in a release. "Our continued growth is testament to the commitment and skills of our employees and maritime community, and we look forward to a very positive FY2019 finish in June."