The logjam of U.S. imports stacked on ships off the coast of Los Angeles isn’t just getting longer. It’s getting wider.
Of the 77 container vessels waiting as of Tuesday for berth space at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, 23 had room to carry more than 10,000 containers measured in 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, according to data from the Marine Exchange of Southern California & Vessel Traffic Service Los Angeles and Long Beach.
That share — 30% of queued vessels exceeding 10,000 TEUs — is up from 23% at the end of August, when 10 of the 43 anchored ships topped that threshold. That’s pushed the average capacity of the waylaid ships close to 6,900 TEUs, or about a thousand more than the average two months ago, according to the data.
So it’s not just the number of ships that matters in assessing the severity of the snarl — it’s the amount of boxes they’re carrying. With bigger payloads coming into the ports, efforts to move cargo inland on trucks and trains will have to accelerate to make any noticeable dent in the backlog in the near term. The average wait for ships bound for Los Angeles exceeded 14 days this week, roughly the amount of time it takes the fastest carriers to cross the Pacific.
A rising number of big container ships is worsening U.S. port bottlenecks
Source: Marine Exchange of Southern California & Vessel Traffic Service Los Angeles and Long Beach
It’s gotten so bad that the governor of Texas launched the ‘Escape California’ Twitter campaign this week, with a 30-second video telling carriers that in less than two weeks, they can re-route cargo to “one of the 24/7 functioning Texas cargo ports.”
Among the carriers operating on the transpacific lanes is Hawaii-based Matson, which is trying to meet strong demand for expedited freight to the West Coast from Asia ahead of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday shopping season. It’s also seeing shippers planning ahead for delivery before China’s Lunar New Year holiday in February.
“All elements of the supply chain infrastructure from origination in China, to the distribution points in the U.S., are in chaos,” Matson CEO Matthew Cox told Wall Street analysts Wednesday. “We expect elevated consumption demand and inventory restocking to remain largely in place at least through mid-year 2022.”
—Brendan Murray in London
Share of the global market
Data: Atlas of Economic Complexity
For the better part of five years, Le Thi Kim Dung sewed jeans for American brands at a sprawling industrial complex on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. Now the global economy has a lot riding on the decisions of hundreds of thousands of people like her who fill Vietnam’s factories, owned by multinationals and local companies alike. As relations between the U.S. and China soured, Vietnam has emerged as a manufacturing hot spot, with annual exports climbing almost twentyfold in the past two decades, to $283 billion in 2020. (Click here for the full story in Bloomberg Businessweek.)
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