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  April 23rd, 2024 | Written by

Surge in U.S. Inbound Containers Signals Economic Growth in 2024

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In the opening months of 2024, the United States has witnessed a significant surge in inbound container volumes, signaling robust economic activity. According to analysis by renowned analyst John McCown, imports at the nation’s top ten ports experienced a remarkable growth of nearly 20% year-on-year in March.

The dominance of these ports, which handle 86% of U.S. import traffic, underscores the resilience of the world’s largest economy. Despite a slight dip from February’s growth rate of 26.5%, March’s 19.2% increase in inbound containers reaffirms the ongoing strength of economic momentum.

McCown emphasized the sustained growth trajectory, pointing out that the trailing three-month figure shows a substantial 17.8% increase compared to the previous year. This growth, unaffected by the timing impact of events like the Chinese New Year, reflects underlying economic vitality, with comparisons now less influenced by pandemic-related disruptions.

In March, total import volumes reached nearly 1.82 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units), marking the first turnaround in seven months for ports on the east and Gulf coasts. These ports outpaced their Pacific coast counterparts, growing at a rate of 21.9% compared to 16.2% growth on the west coast.

Leading the pack, Los Angeles retained its position as the country’s primary import gateway, handling just under 380,000 TEU with growth slightly below the market average at 18.6%. New York & New Jersey followed closely, experiencing a growth of 19.6%, while Long Beach, although third in volume, exhibited the slowest growth among the top ten ports at 8.4%. Notably, Oakland emerged as the fastest-growing port, with volumes soaring by 38.4% year-on-year.

In addition to the surge in imports, U.S. exports continued their upward trajectory, growing by 7.6% year-on-year to reach 930,500 TEU. Los Angeles surpassed Houston as the leading export port, with a substantial 47.3% year-on-year increase.

However, the performance across ports varied, with some witnessing declines or stagnation in export volumes. Despite Houston’s strong growth, Long Beach experienced a significant decline of 21.3% compared to March 2023, while Norfolk and Charleston remained relatively flat.

Analyzing the data over a five-year period, McCown highlighted the disparity among ports, with Houston exhibiting the strongest growth since pre-pandemic levels in March 2019, while Seattle/Tacoma lagged behind with negative growth rates.

The surge in inbound containers and the upward trajectory of exports underscore the resilience and vitality of the U.S. economy in 2024, reflecting positive trends in global trade and commerce.