As some regions of the country begin to reopen their economies after coronavirus shutdowns, U.S. retailers are restocking dwindling inventories in warehouses, a trend that has led to rising import volumes at maritime ports.
At the Port of Oakland, that trend led to an increase in containerized import shipments of 6.4% in July compared to 2019 totals, after a 1.9% increase in June. That increase came after four straight months of declines between February and June, during the early stages of the global coronavirus pandemic.
But the Port 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 in a Wednesday release. “But we’re not doing any victory celebrations because the trade outlook remains unclear as long as the pandemic is with us.”
For example, export volume at the California port has now dropped in three consecutive months, including a 6.4% decline in July, compared to July 2019. And overall, the port said its year-to-date total cargo volume is down 5.8% from 2019, due primarily to a nearly 10% drop in shipments of empty cargo containers back to origin destinations.
Similar results happened on the east coast, where the South Carolina Ports Authority had a record July for vehicles, handling 25,128 vehicles at its Columbus Street Terminal last month for a 47% jump year-over-year. The port also said it moved 99,431 pier containers in July, which measures boxes of any size, for an increase of 12% from June.
But those numbers represent an incremental recovery from the huge impact of how the pandemic disrupted businesses globally in recent months, and the port said its volume is still down compared to 2019.
“We are encouraged by some signs of an initial rebound in our container and automotive volumes, as well as an increase in imports and a decline in blank sailings,” S.C. Ports President and CEO Jim Newsome said in a release. “However, a more substantial recovery is dependent on the duration and intensity of the economic impacts from the pandemic, and ultimately, on a vaccine. We are hopeful for a stronger rebound throughout fiscal year 2021.”