US port container cargo jumps 17%

A report by the Department of Transportation shows US container ports saw a strong increase in the amount of container cargo they handled in 2009, showing further evidence of economic recovery in a sector that saw sharp declines due to the global recession.

Latest port shipping data shows US  container ports handled 17 percent more cargo in the first half of 2010 than a year earlier, signifying a strong rebound in container volume that is likely to continue, the Department of Transportation said in a report released today.

The report, published by the department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, said US container ports handled 110 million metric tons of containerised cargo in the first half of 2010, or 15 million more than during the same period last year.

The 17 percent increase from 2009 to 2010 makes up for an 8 percent drop in cargo volume from the first half of 2008, when container ports handled 120 million metric tons of containerised cargo.

The report blamed the volatile numbers on the global recession, which led to a 15 percent decline in the number of containers shipped globally in 2009 versus 2008, as measured by twenty-foot equivalent containers, or TEUs.

TEU volume follows the general direction of economic growth, as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP). From 1995 to 2008, the number of TEUs moving through US seaports grew 5 percent, versus 3 percent growth in US’ real GDP.

“Assuming that the strong cyclical relationship continues” between TEU and GDP growth, “when the US economy fully recovers and the volume of merchandise imports and exports rebounds to pre-recession levels, US container ports are likely to see a continuation of the 2010 increase in container throughout,” the report predicted.

Both containerised imports and exports rose in the first half of 2010 as businesses replenished low inventories and production activities increased, according to the report. Imports accounted to 62 million metric tons of containerised cargo and exports accounted for the remaining 48 million.

The report also found that only two US ports – Los Angeles and Long Beach – ranked among the world’s top 20 busiest container ports, as measured by TEU volume. The Port of Los Angeles ranked 16th worldwide; the Port of Long Beach ranked 18th.