New York is now the #1 port at a critical time for trade with the US

The container ship MOL Maneuver enters the port under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the lower bay of New York Harbor on March 25, 2021 in New York.

Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

Historic import and export container handling in August put the Port of New York and New Jersey in first place, ahead of both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

It comes at a time when the flow of trade continues to shift away from the West Coast and logistics managers worry about a labor strike or lockout. The Port of Los Angeles ranked third in the nation in August, moving 805,314 containers. That’s 37,877 fewer than the ports of New York and New Jersey, which moved 843,191. The Port of Long Beach came in second, moving 806,940 export and import containers.

“We’re surpassing pre-Covid numbers. It’s amazing, and it’s a credit to the men and women who move cargo with such efficiency,” said Kevin O’Toole, chairman of the Port Authority. “Our plans with rail to complement the real infrastructure and the dredging are allowing for increased capacity that would not have been available four or five years ago.”

This August was the busiest August in the history of the Port of New York and New Jersey and the fourth busiest month. The port’s five busiest months were in 2022.

More east coast trade and more port congestion

CNBC’s U.S. supply chain heat map shows how continued trade growth is allowing East Coast and Gulf ports to win in this cargo movement. Logistics companies and warehouses serving these ports are also reaping the benefits of additional containers. CSX and South Norfolk rails move import and export containers on the East Coast. BNSF, str Berkshire Hathaway and Union Pacific move containers in and out of the Port of Houston.

Increased container handling increases wait times at East Coast and Gulf ports. Congestion increases arrival delays for manufacturers who need components to complete their products or to place finished products on store shelves for sale.

During the week of Sept. 19, MarineTraffic tracked 28 container ships waiting to leave the Port of Savannah with an average wait of 9.9 days. For the port of New York and New Jersey, 12 container ships wait an average of 9 days. There are 25 container ships at anchor in the Port of Houston, waiting an average of eight days.

“While volumes are rising, congestion at East Coast ports may be at a tipping point after months of record import levels,” said Josh Brazil, Project44’s vice president of supply chain analysis.

Project44 data shows that the number of ships in the queue at the Port of Savannah has dropped from more than 30 last month to just 16 today. New York’s congestion is also down slightly. However, Houston is still supported by 20 courts, about the same as last month.

“During Q4, port backlogs may continue to decrease due to lower vessel numbers as a result of slower consumer demand,” Brazil said.

Sea prices are falling

The flow of trade from the West Coast reduced the demand for shipping space, which led to a drop in the cost of shipping from the Far East to the West Coast.

“After adjusting for retail inflation, U.S. retail sales were flat from last month, so demand hasn’t fallen sharply,” said Peter Sand, chief transportation analyst at Xeneta. “Shippers are still bringing a lot of containers to the East and West coasts and the Gulf Coast.”

Xeneta tracks a new record divergence between spot rates from the Far East to the coast.

“This is an indication that the congestion on the West Coast is almost eliminated and the volumes of arrivals at the ports and terminals can be controlled,” Sand said. This has caused rates to drop faster on the trans-Pacific route than on East Coast-bound cargo.

Logistics prices are one of the key drivers of inflation that the Federal Reserve cannot control.

“Congestion on the U.S. East Coast remains elevated with additional disruptions on that coast due to issues in Northern Europe,” he added, citing recent industrial strikes by dock workers in Great Britain which highlighted the port network of Europe.

Shippers are still hesitant to return diverted cargo to the U.S. West Coast, Sand said.

CNBC Heat M supply chainadata providers are artificial intelligence and predictive analytics company Everstream Analytics; global cargo booking platform Freightos, creator of the Freightos Baltic Dry Index; logistics provider OL USA; supply chain intelligence platform FreightWaves; the Blume Global supply chain platform; third-party logistics service provider Orient Star Group; marine analytics firm MarineTraffic; marine visibility of Project44 data; marine transport company MDS Transmodal UK; Sea and air freight rate benchmarking and market analytics platform Xeneta; leading research and analysis provider Sea-Intelligence ApS; Crane Worldwide Logistics; and air, DHL Global Forwarding; cargo logistics service provider Seko Logistics; and the planet provider of global daily satellite imagery and geospatial solutions.

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