February's numbers from the Port of Los Angeles were much worse than the preliminary estimates. Inbound traffic tumbled 35.3 percent from a year earlier, which is the worst monthly drop since the early 80s, while outbound traffic (representing a much smaller share of the pie) fell 27.6 percent. All told, traffic last month was down 32.7 percent. (Port of Long Beach numbers aren't in yet.) L.A. and Long Beach account for 40 percent of all container traffic coming into the U.S., so itís a pretty good indication of how many wide-screen TVs and automobiles are expected to be sold in the coming months. Port officials had warned of serious declines in traffic for the first few months of 2009, but Iím not sure anyone was anticipating a 35.3 percent plummet. Keep in mind that the busiest time of the year is during the summer months when holiday merchandise starts coming in. From Dow Jones:
U.S. domestic freight carriers, including railroads and trucking companies, have continued to reporting large declines in business, though there have been mixed signals over the March trend. "It feels like we may have reached a floor," Union Pacific Corp. (UNP) Chief Financial Officer Rob Knight said this week during a transportation conference, although he added that his railroad's year-to-date freight volumes were down 22% through March 7. West Coast ports are particularly sensitive to Asian imports and exports. Major U.S. exports through the ports include raw materials such as scrap metal and paper for recycling, while imports include all manner of consumer goods. "What comes through here (in terms of imports) goes right onto the shelves of major retailers" nationwide, Baker said. "What's happening (in terms of cargo) is really a direct reflection of the economy."
This weekend, I talk about port traffic and international trade with John Rabe on his KPCC "Off-Ramp" program. We were at the dockworkers' union hall in Wilmington, where Chris Viramontes, secretary-treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13, told us about the severe cuts in activity. On some days, Viramontes said, only 300 to 500 dockworkers are needed, compared with up to 2,000 during the height of the import boom.