Port of Los Angeles

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reported a jump in imports last month compared with a year earlier, when severe congestion had snarled traffic.

By Erica E. Phillips
Updated: Feb. 11, 2016 – 3:33 p.m. ET

The two busiest U.S. ports on Thursday reported slight growth in imports, the latest sign that many companies are holding back on spending as they wait for the economic picture to clear.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which form the largest port complex in the Western Hemisphere, reported a 37% jump in container imports from a year earlier, when both ports slowed to a crawl amid protracted labor negotiations. Compared to the same period in 2014, the ports’ combined volume only grew 1%. Exports were up 5% from last year but down 18% from January 2014.

January’s volumes show that West Coast ports have largely recovered from last year’s congestion. However, growth remains subdued as U.S. retailers and manufacturers have been slow to ramp up imports after the holidays, opting instead to work through large inventories built up last year. The strong dollar has reduced exports by making U.S. goods more expensive in foreign markets. Even so, Los Angeles port officials said it was their busiest January on record.

“Certainly they bounced back a lot from last year, but in the longer scheme of things, they should hold the champagne,” said international trade economist Jock O’Connell.

Los Angeles imported 367,209 20-foot equivalent units, a standard measure for container cargo, up from 259,206 last January. Long Beach handled 278,491 TEU of imports, up from 213,667 a year prior.

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