November cargo volume was down at some of the nation's container ports, but officials said they expect to finish 2019 ahead of year-ago levels, according to reports issued this week.
November cargo volume was down more than 5% compared to the year-ago period at the Port of Virginia. Officials attributed the drop to the late Thanksgiving holiday—which pushed some vessel calls into December—along with tariffs and overall trade uncertainty.
"The trade environment continues to present challenges," Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John F. Reinhart said in a statement announcing the monthly results. "Our agricultural export volumes are down and are reflective of the ongoing tariffs. We are hopeful there will be some rebound in this trade segment as the Chinese government is set to relax some of the tariffs on U.S. exports of pork products and soybeans."
Reinhart said the port is on course to set its fifth straight record for cargo growth despite the November decline. Year-to-date volume is up 3.8%, he said.
On the West Coast, the ports of Los Angeles and Oakland also posted weaker November results. L.A. saw a 12.4% decline overall, as November imports fell 12.2%, exports declined 9.2%, and empty containers slid 14.8% compared to November 2018.
"As we expected, 2019 winds down with volumes weakening, due largely to the U.S.-China trade war, which continues to negatively impact American consumers, manufacturers, and U.S. supply chain jobs," the port's Executive Director Gene Seroka said in a statement, adding that he expects the tariffs to linger "well into 2020."
The Port of Los Angeles is on track to finish the year slightly ahead of a record 2018, however. As of November, year-to-date volumes have increased 0.4%, officials said.
In Oakland, November import volume declined 7.2% compared to year-ago levels but exports were up nearly 6%. It was the second straight monthly increase in exports, which officials attributed to strong demand in Asia. Total volume was down slightly year-to-date—0.8%—due mainly to a 10.5% drop in empty container handling, officials said.
To the south, officials at Port Houston are reporting an "exceptional year." At a recent port commission meeting, Executive Director Roger Guenther said he expects container volume to reach an all-time high of nearly 3 million twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) in 2019.