US West Coast ports losing market share

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With port congestion and fears of a potential labour disruption on the US West Coast, East and Gulf coast ports now boast significantly more imports than West Coast ports. Data from McCown Container Volume Observer released Thursday confirms that US imports remain near all-time highs. Imports to the top 10 ports totalled 2,165,939 TEUs in August, the fifth-highest monthly tally on record. August was flat year on year (y/y) and up 3% versus July.  The West Coast ports’ share of the total sank to 45%. That’s a nine-point swing from February 2021, when the West Coast boasted a 54% share. According to John McCown, author of the Container Volume Observer, it’s the West Coast ports’  lowest share of U.S. imports “since at least the early 1980s.”

Imports to the top West Coast ports totalled 978,844 TEUs in August, down 11.5% y/y, weighed by a 17% plunge at the Port of Los Angeles while imports to the top East and Gulf coast ports totalled 1,187,095 TEUs last month, up 12% y/y. These ports “had a blowout month with their largest volumes ever,” said McCown.  Import gains were driven by Savannah, Georgia ( up 20.4% y/y), Houston (up 12.7%), Norfolk, Virginia (up 11.4%), and New York/New Jersey (up 10.5%).

That being said schedule reliability has improved on the US West Coast, reaching its highest level since congestion hit over the summer months last year at 27.1%. This is 11 percentage points better than last year, with roughly one in four ships arriving on time now compared to one in six. The average delay for late ships has also fallen to 9.6 days. While these numbers are still not impressive, they represent a drop in the average time spent on this trade which means that the total capacity deployed on this trade has fallen by even more than the weekly offered capacity would suggest.

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