Port leaders cited four reasons for the drop, saying first that domestic inventories have remained high since retail sales fell in February, which has dampened cargo volumes for U.S. West Coast ports. And second, a strong dollar is impeding export volumes. Those economic trends echo recent reports on cargo imports by the National Retail Federation (NRF).
A third factor causing lackluster volume out west is that West Coast ports have been losing market share to ports on America’s East and Gulf Coasts, the Port of Oakland said. That analysis aligns with statistics from the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) showing that the Port of Savannah recently recorded the second-busiest February in its history.
The fourth reason is that exports have been on the decline since 2020, a decrease that was initially jump-started by tariffs imposed by the U.S. and China, the port said. Those numbers then continued to decline during the pandemic due to product supply chain disruptions and the scarcity of empty containers. That criticism is familiar to retailers, who have been lobbying the White House throughout the Trump and Biden administrations to repeal those tariffs, pointing out that they are paid by U.S.-based importers, which then pass the extra cost on to consumers, ultimately fanning inflation and slowing industrial investment.
By the numbers, the California port said the number of full twenty-foot containers (TEUs) it handled dropped 23% in February, with 113,814 TEU’s transiting the port in contrast to 147,620 TEUs in February 2022. More specifically, the Port of Oakland said its full imports fell 32% in February compared to that month the year before, while full exports declined by 10.6%. Likewise, empty TEUs dropped 14% compared to February 2022, registering 40,023 TEUs this February versus 46,768 TEUs in February 2022.