The global coronavirus pandemic continues to affect cargo volume through the nation’s ports, with large ports on the East and West Coast reporting year-to-date declines this week.
On the East Coast, officials at the Port of New York and New Jersey said Tuesday that total volume through the port fell more than 16% in June and that total volume for the year was down nearly 8%. Imports totaled 266,836 twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) compared to 303,309 TEUs in the year-ago period, a 12% decrease. Year-to-date, imports fell 7.3% to 1.7 million TEUs. June exports were down nearly 21% to 244, 470 TEUs, and year-to-date exports were down 8.5%, to 1.6 million TEUs. Port officials said rail volume was down 6% in June, but was up 1.4% for the first half of the year.
Cargo volume at the Port of Virginia fell in July as well. Officials said July volume was off by 44,500 TEUs, or nearly 17%, compared to July 2019, which was a record month for volume last year. The port fared better sequentially, posting an increase in July volume compared with June: overall, the port moved 221,028 TEUs in July, a nearly 5% increase over the 10,359 TEUs it moved in June. Virginia’s biggest sequential gains were in loaded imports: the port moved 105,692 TEUs in July compared with 95,502 TEUs in June.
Port officials said they expect to see some stabilization in volumes heading into the fall.
“We are beginning to see some stabilization in volumes and we expect this to hold for the next two months or so,” John F. Reinhart CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority said this week. “The number of blank sailings is reducing and we are seeing an uptick in volume on some services, so the month-to-month cargo losses should subside during the near-term. This is still a very unpredictable trade environment, so our team is preparing for any eventuality.”
On the West Coast, officials at the Port of Oakland reported an uptick in imports for the month of July, citing retailers’ need to restock dwindling inventories. Imports jumped 6.4% in July and followed a 1.9% increase in June. The results were tempered by a 6.4% decline in export volume during the month, however—the third straight monthly drop in exports. Year-to-date, Oakland’s cargo volume is down 5.8% from 2019.
Port leaders said they welcomed the rising import volume in July after four straight months of declines, but they cautioned against “reading too much into the results.”
“It’s good to see an uptick in cargo activity,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said Wednesday. “But we’re not doing any victory celebrations because the trade outlook remains unclear as long as the pandemic is with us.”
Falling exports could be the result of China’s efforts to bar waste product shipments, officials also said, noting that scrap paper is one of the leading U.S. exports from West Coast ports, including Oakland.