LONG BEACH — Business from two major shipping lines helped boost lackluster cargo numbers at the Port of Long Beach as 2012 ended, giving the port its best import numbers for December in recorded history, a port official said Wednesday.
The nation's second-busiest seaport - which generates about $4.9 billion in local, state and general federal taxes annually and accounts for 1.4 million trade-related jobs nationally, including one in eight jobs in Long Beach - took in 295,579 TEUs, or 20-foot equivalent units, in imports in December.
That's an 18.9 percent jump from December 2011, according to the port's latest numbers released Wednesday.
However, goods movement for the year remained flat with a little more than 6 million TEUs, a 0.3 percent dip from last year, which port spokesman Daniel Yi said is reflective of an economy still recovering.
"We're happy to be able to recoup most of the down trend from the earlier part of the year," he said.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Port of Los Angeles, imports and exports dipped from 2011 to 2012 compared with the previous year, handling about 6.14 million loaded TEUs in 2012, down from the 6.18 million.
The Los Angeles port reported an overall 1.7 percent rise in cargo volumes compared to 2011, allowing the port to process more than 8 million containers for only the third time in its history. But the data show that the increase is entirely due to growth in the number of empty containers handled
Consumer confidence drives demand at the import-heavy Long Beach port, and Joseph Magaddino, professor of economics at Cal State Long Beach, said that economic growth is not expected to be strong nationally this year as the country looks at an annual gross domestic product growth of less than 2 percent. This is slower by a couple of tenths of a percent than last year's growth.
"The economy is progressing forward but at a modest and steady pace," he said. "We won't see strong growth until the end of 2014."
When comparing 2011 to 2012, the Port of Long Beach saw 3.06 million TEUs in imports in 2012, a 1.2 percent increase from last year. About 1.54 million TEUs were exports in 2012, a 2.2 percent jump from 2011, while empty container numbers fell 5.6 percent from last year to 1.44 million TEUs.
After a sluggish start to the year, the port ended strong with a 9.8 percent increase in TEUs last month over December 2011.
Exports for the month rose 4.9 percent, while empty containers, which are shipped overseas to be refilled with goods, fell 2.4 percent when compared to the same time a year ago.
The numbers are robust despite a weeklong strike that affected both ports. About two-thirds of the terminals at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles shuttered after more than two years of talks crumbled between the union representing 600 clerical workers at both ports and their employers, representing shipping agencies and terminal operators in Southern California.
In Los Angeles, loaded imports and exports fell by 10.2 percent compared with December 2011. Overall, including empty boxes, container volumes dropped by 9.4 percent compared to December 2011.
Long Beach was not as affected by the labor strike as Los Angeles since three of six terminals remained opened and took on much of the business during that period, Yi said.
Port officials in Long Beach credit the improvement in the numbers to major container shipping firms CMA CGM and Mediterranean Shipping Co., which added services in Long Beach in 2012.
Cargo numbers started to climb by double digits in October and November after MSC transferred its business from the Port of Los Angeles to Long Beach.
Also boosting numbers is Marseille, France-based ocean carrier CMA CGM, the world's third-biggest container shipping line, which added service and plans to expand even more. The company announced last month that it will lease and operate a 256-acre terminal at Pier J.
Port officials have said that CMA CGM's plan to build a West Coast hub is expected to bring 2.6 million more container units, about $70 million in revenue in the next five years and create more jobs.
Staff Writer Brian Sumers contributed to this report.