March container traffic into the Port of L.A. showed a 6 percent drop from a year earlier, but at least it was up 35 percent from last month. The February numbers were kept especially low because of factories closing for the Chinese New Year, but perhaps the March upturn signals something more - that exports have finally reached bottom (as a few analysts have suggested). It's potentially a very big deal if more merchandise coming into San Pedro gets snapped up at Target or wherever. It means consumer spending may be picking up. The Port of Long Beach is not yet out with its March numbers.
This morning the WSJ reported on shipping giant AP Moeller-Maersk having a line of container ships dock in Seattle instead of L.A., another sign of the increased competition from ports up and down the west coast.
Prince Rupert Port in British Columbia was once a site for shipping timber and pulp out of Canada, but it reopened in 2007 to service container vessels from Asia. The port makes the case that with its rail connections, lack of urban congestion and shorter distance from Asia by sea, it shaves a day or two off of transport to places like the Midwest. "We service the heartland of North America," said Don Krusel, president and chief executive of the port. "We're 99 hours to Chicago, 133 hours to Memphis" by train. Mr. Krusel said the port, which handled roughly 180,000 containers last year, will expand its capacity to two million containers by 2014.
No one is predicting the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will lose their spot as the country's largest port complex by volume -- its proximity to the vast Southern California market is enough to ensure major business for years to come. But "because they were the first there, they were the first target" by West Coast upstarts, said Paul Bingham, an economist at IHS Global Insight.