“Rumblin’, Bumblin’, Stumblin’ …”

According to the Hong Kong Shipping Gazette of September 28, 2011, “The bleak outlook in the U.S. is already having a significant impact on the container shipping sector, particularly given the poor levels of consumer confidence in the country. North American ports saw import volumes rise in July on a monthly basis but fell in comparison to the same time last year, particularly on the west coast.

“Global Port Tracker reports that west coast ports handled a total of 960,000 TEU for the month of July, down five per cent from last year, while east coast ports handled 506,000 TEU, down a marginal 0.9 per cent year on year.” –

Asians have no trouble calling a spade a spade. “The bleak outlook” … “the poor levels of confidence” … “import volumes … fell in comparison to the same time last year” … but that’s not what the U.S. media has been telling us. “Recovery, recovery, recovery” is what U.S. officials keep talking about, with not a bit of substantiating evidence. So let’s take a closer look at that “recovery”, and let’s go back a bit and put everything in proper perspective. In other words, let’s look at the truth for a change.

As you may have gathered, Global Port Tracker likes to compare things “year on year”, showing small declines in numbers and percentages. They prefer – or are instructed – to talk about “consumer confidence” rather than consumer joblessness.

For the sake of a more accurate analysis, with respect to the 960,000 and 506,000 TEU figures given above, here are some more meaningful numbers:

From our Vol. III, Art. 2 commentary (April 9, 2005): “LOS ANGELES … Over the past three decades, Southern California’s twin ports have grown into the country’s main entry ports for cargo containers. In 2003, the equivalent of 11.3 million 20-foot containers passed across the docks. Only the ports of Hong Kong and Singapore saw more cargo.” –

From Vol. IV, Art. 29 (Sept. 5, 2005): According to the World Shipping Council, a Washington D.C. trade group representing liner shipping companies serving international trade, “Roughly 11 million ocean-going cargo shipping containers are expected to be offloaded at U.S. ports this year, a number that may reach 12 million containers next year, according to Council president Chris Koch.

From Vol. VIII, Art. 22 (August 28, 2006): “LONG BEACH … In recent years, as trade with Asia, especially China, has boomed, so has activity in the ports. In 1990, the two ports handled the equivalent of 3 million 20-foot containers. This year they will process more than 16 million, according to Art Wong, a spokesman for the Long Beach facility. David Freeman, chairman of the powerful Los Angeles Harbor Commission, estimated that traffic will double by 2020.” –

“16 million” TEU in 2006? They’re doing about half that today – in 2011! This is a recovery?