Port Congestion Update: Are the Ports Ready for Peak Season?

Categories: Port Congestion.

The widespread port congestion that has plagued the West Coast is dissipating at a steady rate. But the impact of port congestion has been particularly acute at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and questions linger ahead of container shipping peak season.

Where do the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach currently stand in terms of port congestion? What can we expect for the rest of 2023, and will port congestion impact peak shipping season?

A brief recap of COVID-era port congestion

The rampant port congestion in U.S. ports has largely been due to ripple effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

Reduced port staffing — The outbreak of the pandemic in March of 2020 necessitated a series of lockdowns, which resulted in reduced port staffing throughout the United States. This, in turn, created cargo ship logjams at ports.

Increased online shopping — Particularly in the early days of the pandemic, consumer habits trended toward online shopping, which skyrocketed demand for shipping.

Truck driver shortages — The pandemic created a shortage of truck drivers. Because fewer people were able to drive products to their destinations, they piled up at the ports.

Supply surges — Due to increased demand for products, retailers over-ordered stock to get ahead of future supply chain disruptions. This caused widespread bottlenecks in the ports.

Container allocation issues — Issues allocating empty shipping containers to their destinations have caused significant backups in ports.

Has port congestion cleared?

Ports have made adjustments to address congestion issues, and we’ve seen considerable improvements since late 2022.

As of January 2023, the amount of vessels waiting off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has reduced to almost zero. A year prior, over 100 ships waited off both ports.

2023 has been a relatively slow year for both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Although 2022 was the second-busiest on record for both Los Angeles and Long Beach, now that some of the pandemic-related variables are less prominent, cargo volumes have declined substantially.

As of April 2023, the Port of Los Angeles has experienced a 22% reduction in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The Port of Long Beach has experienced a 20.1% reduction in TEUs, compared to 2022 numbers.

On May 31, Mario Cordero, Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach, spoke at a virtual news conference, where he confirmed that Long Beach’s 2023 cargo numbers more closely resemble those seen in 2019. According to Cordero, the trajectory is “stabilizing at pre-pandemic levels.”

What will peak shipping season look like this year?

Traditional container shipping peak season starts in August, when retailers begin ordering stock for both back-to-school season and holiday seasons. Peak season came early in 2022, but it’s unclear whether that will happen again this year.

Logistics companies are cautiously optimistic that shipping will start to see some year-over-year growth in the second half of 2023, but experts don’t expect to see another influx of cargo at the ports.

Cordero estimates about 700,000 TEUs a month at the Port of Long Beach. “We don’t expect a traditional peak season,” he noted, “but a plateau.”

Barring unforeseen circumstances, port congestion during peak season is unlikely to be a problem at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

GlobeCon is your partner at the ports.

Even if we experience a late and/or plateaued peak season this year, it pays to be prepared, and now is the time to optimize performance. Having the right partners at your side can help you mitigate delays and scale up.

For 35+ years, GlobeCon has been a trusted partner, seamlessly moving products through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Contact us to learn more.