Is Port of Oakland’s July Shipping Surge Just Empty Numbers?

 In container, container shipping, Container Shipping & Transport, International Shipping, Port of Oakland
Port of Oakland shipping container surge

Port of Oakland shipping container surge

The Port of Oakland reported big numbers for the month of July. The numbers were so high, in fact, that they made headlines.

American Shipper headlined with “Port of Oakland experiences busiest month in 10 years” and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ran a story titled “Port of Oakland Reports Record Container Volumes in July.”

Port executives are practically singing Herman’s Hermits’ “Something tells me I’m into something good” when they speak about the numbers.

Here are the kinds of words coming out of their mouths as quoted in the WSJ article:

“With holiday shipments set to commence, this could be the start of something good,” said the port’s maritime director, John Driscoll.

Here are the kind of numbers we’re talking about as reported by the American Shipper article:

During the month, the Californian port handled the equivalent of 223,619 TEUs, 8.8 percent more than in July 2015 and the most since it lifted 227,996 TEUs in August of 2006.

The port handled 80,508 TEUs of loaded import containers and 77,573 TEUs of loaded export containers in July, year-over-year increases of 1 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.

Empty inbound container volumes surged 21.5 percent from July 2015 to 17,017 TEUs, while empty outbound container volumes skyrocketed 31.5 percent from last June to 48,521 TEUs.

The thing that really stands out to me are those empty container numbers.

WSJ also highlights the importance of empty containers to the Port of Oakland’s July growth with:

Dockworkers handled nearly 30% more empty containers—48,521 20-foot equivalent units for export and 17,017 import TEUs—in July. Empty containers are usually moved, in anticipation of trade growth, to places where they’re expected to be filled with goods before shipping back.

Obviously, the optimistic Port of Oakland executives are hoping all these empty containers are a sign of large amounts of actual goods about to move through the port.

There should be shipping increases with peak season about to hit; however, numbers are predicted to be down this peak season from last.

Of course, last peak season saw congestion–hugely exacerbated by labor strife during PMA/ILWU contract negotiations–keep goods from reaching shippers or leaving the ports to get to their business partners abroad. That has caused many shippers to play a little safer, stocking up for the holiday season early.

The question is whether this peak season is about to see a dip as predicted, or will the Port of Oakland see a surge precipitated by all these empty shipping containers.

Larger ships are increasing the numbers of empty containers being transported. It’s possible these big July numbers could be as hollow as the shipping containers boosting them. But hopefully, the Port of Oakland really is on to something good.

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