In a fresh sign of recovering economic activity, a number of major ports report a jump in container traffic volume in January. In some cases, the volume is setting new records. At the Port of Long Beach in California, container volume surged 11% in January, according to port officials.

Last month’s gains followed healthy increases in 2010 at Long Beach, which recorded the largest container cargo gains of any port in the U.S. according to port officials.

Increased port activity reflects greater demand for consumer goods transported across the globe and the nation. The rising volume indicates increased demand at distribution and warehouse facilities in the industrial sector, and shows that retailers are experiencing or expecting greater sales.

Overall, the Port of Long Beach moved 474,960 20-ft. equivalent (TEU) container units last month compared with 428,805 TEUs in January 2010.

Imports rose 11.3% to 242,444 TEUs, and exports increased 12.7% to 127,546 TEUs. The gains came despite the December loss of California United Terminals, which had accounted for about 10% of all Port of Long Beach volume.

In 2010, containerized cargo at Long Beach rose by 1.2 million units over 2009, soaring nearly 25%. It was the largest one-year increase in port history, according to local officials. In all, Long Beach shipping terminals moved 6.3 million TEUs last year.

"This was a tremendous rebound, and happened much faster than predicted," says Port of Long Beach executive director Richard Steinke.

More gains in Los Angeles
Meanwhile, container traffic at the Port of Los Angeles surged 16% in 2010 over 2009 levels. Exports rose 10.3% in 2010 to 1.8 million TEUs compared to close to 1.7 million TEUs in 2009. Imports increased 12.8% in 2010 over 2009.

“The 2010 volume gains far surpass our initial estimates,” says port executive director Geraldine Knatz. The port provides a workshop, Trade Connect, to help companies understand the basics of finding overseas markets and understanding the logistics and risks of exporting and importing goods.

The Port handled 7.8 million TEUs in 2010 and remains the nation’s busiest trade gateway in container volume, officials said.
In December, the total number of TEUs imported and exported through the Port of Los Angeles was 612,651, an 8.82% increase over the 562,989 TEUs handled in December 2009.

Loaded container exports were up 5.6% at 299,304 TEUs compared with 283,364 TEUs in December 2009.

The Port of Los Angeles is the leading seaport in North America in terms of shipping container volume and cargo value, according to the report.

Savannah sees volume jump

Business is also jumping at the Port of Savannah in Georgia. The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) reported “exceptional” growth in January, its second best month ever with 25,877 rail moves, according to executive director Curtis Foltz.

More than 200 vessels called on the Port of Savannah in January 2011, an increase of 20% over January 2010.

Container volume rose in the fiscal year-to-date by 14.3%. Container tonnage posted the third best month ever with nearly 1.9 million tons.

Breakbulk tonnage for the ports of Savannah and Brunswick totaled 171,761 tons, which is an increase of 43% compared with January 2010. At the Port of Brunswick, auto and machinery units practically doubled compared with January 2010, moving 37,313 units in January 2011, says Foltz.

Strategic infrastructure upgrades have helped the ports’ efficiency, says GPA chairman Alec Poitevint. “As larger vessels continue to call on the Port of Savannah, the increased global demand for trade through our ports necessitates the efficiency and additional capacity of a deeper harbor.”

The Port of Savannah handled 8.3% of the U.S. containerized cargo volume and 12% of all U.S. containerized exports in fiscal year 2010.