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Exports brighten trade figures at L.A. seaport

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The Port of Los Angeles had its biggest month ever for exports in November and the total was also high enough to drive the nation's busiest cargo container port past its record for goods shipped overseas in a year.

The Los Angeles port moved 195,878 containers containing exports in November, an increase of more than 15% over the same month a year earlier. That gave the port an 11-month total of more than 1.93 million cargo export containers, breaking the old mark of 1.84 million export containers recorded during the 12 months of 2010.

Imports through the Port of Los Angeles rose 6.2% in November compared with a year earlier. Overall, through the first 11 months of the year, cargo moving through the port was up less than 1% compared with a year ago.

Preliminary figures from the neighboring Port of Long Beach showed a 15.6% decline in imports in November, compared with the same month last year. Exports there were down 22.2% in November, compared with a year earlier.

Through the first 11 months of the year, overall cargo movement through Long Beach, the nation's second busiest container port, was down 3.5% compared with 2010. One reason for the decline was the loss of business from Hyundai, which moved its cargo terminal to the Port of Los Angeles last year.

ALSO:

Protesters block some West Coast port traffic

Business leaders join L.A.'s  Asia trade mission

Los Angeles wants a bigger slice of perishables market

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Trains move cargo to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest seaport complex. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times

L.A., Long Beach port truck fleet to get younger, cut pollution

PoLB_Clean Trucks_0228
One of the newest major seaport truck fleets in the U.S. will get even younger Jan. 1, when the last of about 1,100 older rigs are banned from operating at the harbor.

Every truck that enters the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on that day will be no older than the 2007 model year, said officials for both ports. This was the latest phase of an overhaul that began Oct. 1, 2008, when 1,500 trucks at least 20 years old were barred from the harbor.

Some of the rigs were so old then that the running joke around San Pedro Harbor was that it was the place where old trucks went to die. Today, the ports claim a reduction of pollution from trucks of between 80% and 90% since 2008.

“We set an example for the entire industry,” said Long Beach Harbor Commission President Susan E. Andersen Wise. “We helped replace more than 10,000 pollution spewing trucks with newer, less polluting ones and the bottom line is that our communities can breathe better."

Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, said, "The Port of Los Angeles, along with our business partners, has made the business of moving cargo more healthy. The results speak for themselves, and we couldn’t be more proud of reaching this milestone."

Officials at both ports said the current fleet, which includes 880 natural gas vehicles, will reduce diesel particulate matter by more than 40 tons a year versus the old fleet.

Melissa Lin Perrella, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the harbor is still the biggest single source of air pollution in Southern California, adding that more work remains to be done at a port complex that anticipates significant cargo growth in coming years.

But Perrella said "these ports were first in the nation to adopt a clean truck program. They should be commended for the policy they put in place."

RELATED:

Export gains at Port of Los Angeles

China air pollution disrupts transportation

Pollution traced to tar pits

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Trucks line up for business outside the Long Beach Container Terminal at the Port of Long Beach. Credit: Port of Long Beach

 

 

 

 

 

Turnover of truck drivers is surging -- good sign for the economy

TrucksLBFWBrian Vander BrugLAT

Competition for top-notch drivers at large trucking companies has steadily picked up over the past year -- a sure sign that the U.S. economy is growing, according to the American Trucking Assn.

The turnover rate of drivers at big fleets rose to 89% in the third quarter of this year, the fourth straight quarterly jump, the association said Monday.

"Clearly, due to the economic recovery, as well as regulatory factors ... we are seeing the market for good, quality drivers tighten," said Bob Costello, the group's chief economist. "As our tonnage index has shown recently, demand for freight continues to rise, so we expect the need for quality drivers to become more acute going forward."

That supply could tighten even more if government safety regulations force some current drivers to leave the industry and require trucking companies to put more big rigs on the road, Costello said.

The turnover rate hit a low point in the first quarter of 2010 but since then has climbed by 50 percentage points, the trucking association said. The average rate so far this year is 81%.

Among smaller companies, the turnover rate rose to 57% in the third quarter, its highest level in three years, the association said.

The American Trucking Assn. is the largest national trade group for the trucking industry, with affiliated groups in all 50 states.

Related:

Stocks fall on euro crisis fears, despite pact

U.S. trade deficit in October shrinks to $43.5 billion

Costco's profit rises 2.6% in quarter as revenue soars 12.5%

-- Marc Lifsher

Photo: Trucks on the Long Beach Freeway going to and from the nearby shipping ports. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times

Long-running labor dispute heats up at ports of L.A., Long Beach

Getprev
Picket lines went up outside four of the 14 cargo terminals at the nation's busiest seaport this afternoon after long-running contract negotiations between union and management representatives took a turn for the worse.

The dispute shut down operations at the four terminals when dockworkers honored the picket lines, but an independent arbitrator ruled at 4:30 p.m. that the dockworkers were to report back to work for the shift change at the terminals at 6 p.m.

The picket signs were hoisted by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's office clerical unit Local 63, a little-known group of about 900 workers who, in spite of their small numbers, could have the strength to shut down San Pedro Harbor's cargo business.

The facilities affected included Total Terminals International, used by the South Korean line Hanjin Shipping, at the Port of Long Beach. Also affected were three terminals at the Port of Los Angeles that are used by NYK Line, a Japanese carrier; the Taiwanese Evergreen Line; and China Shipping Container Lines, which is based in Shanghai.

About 10 people were on the picket line in Long Beach and an additional 25 were on the picket line at the Port of Los Angeles. The lines went up during a lunch break for longshore workers. The office clerical unit handles much of the paperwork associated with cargo movement at the ports.

It is affiliated with, but negotiates its contracts separately from, the larger, 15,000-strong West Coast-wide International Longshore Warehouse Union. But it is that affiliation with the larger group of dockworkers and marine clerks that gives the smaller union clout far beyond its size.

If the arbitrator had ruled that the smaller union's picket were "bona fide," in labor relations parlance, the parent union would have been bound to honor them.

So far, there were no picket lines at any of the other 10 terminals at the two ports, which together make up the world's sixth-busiest harbor. Work at those terminals was proceeding as usual.

The two sides have been negotiating off and on since before the last contract expired June 30, 2010. They appeared to be far apart in terms of a deal.

“We’re sick and tired of seeing these wealthy companies outsource good jobs that our communities desperately need now,” said John Fageaux, president of the clerical workers union. "We’re taking this action to help our communities stand up against the corporate greed that’s been wrecking America."

The companies painted a much different picture, accusing the union of "pressing demands that would weaken the competitiveness of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports while rewarding and sustaining absenteeism and inefficiency."

RELATED:

Railroads, unions stave off a strike

British workers fear pension overhaul

Labor relations board may be put out of work

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: Shipping containers at the Port of Long Beach await loading onto ocean vessels for the long trip back to Asia. Work here and at the neighboring Port of Los Angeles could be shut down if an escalating labor fight spirals out of control. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Long Beach World Trade Center sale stalled

WTC Exterior Bldg Pic_1

Plans by the Port of Long Beach to buy the Long Beach World Trade Center office complex have stalled.

The due diligence period of the planned transaction expired last week without the Board of Harbor Commissioners agreeing to complete the $130-million deal, effectively killing it.

Commissioners earlier split 2 to 2 on a vote with President Susan Wise abstaining because she and her husband lease space in the Ocean Boulevard tower.

The owners of the trade center, Legacy Partners, asked the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to rule on whether Wise’s recusal must stand and are waiting for a decision.

“If she is allowed to vote and she votes no, we’re big boys and will move on,” said Greg Hall, a managing director at Legacy. “We just wanted to see a fair vote.”

Legacy is not marketing the 575,000-square-foot building to other potential buyers, he said.

ALSO:

Port of Long Beach to acquire Long Beach World Trade Center

United Talent Agency leases former Hilton Hotels headquarters

La Costa Resort's $50-million renovation complete

--Roger Vincent

Photo: Long Beach World Trade Center. Credit: Legacy Partners

A slow month for cargo at Long Beach port

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The nation's second-busiest container port saw a sharp decline in cargo numbers in October, but there is a caveat. The Port of Long Beach is operating with just six terminal operators instead of the seven it had in 2010.

The Port of Long Beach is second only to the neighboring harbor of Los Angeles in the amount of cargo containers it moves annually. In October, the amount of imports, mostly from Asia, declined 20.8% to 240,248 containers from a year earlier. Exports through the port, mostly bound for Asia as well, were down 21.4% to 118,325 containerts, compared with October of 2010.

Overall, including empty containers that were being shipped back to Asia, Long Beach moved 487,665 containers, a drop of 20.5%.

One big factor was the absence of the Hyundai cargo terminal, which moved to the Port of Los Angeles. Hyundai had about 10% of the port's business and wasn't willing to wait as Long Beach embarks on a nine-year, $1-billion redevelopment project that will combine two aging shipping terminals into one modern facility that is expected to improve cargo-movement and reduce diesel emissions.

The port did get some good news this week. Its search for a successor for the retiring executive director, Richard D. Steinke, is over. Deputy Executive Director J. Christopher Lytle was selected as his replacement by the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. Lytle will take over by the end of the year.

Lytle joined the port in 2006 as managing director of trade relations and port operations. He's a former vice president with the French shipping line CMA-CGM. He also held executive positions at P&O Ports North America, Sea-Land Service Inc. and APM (Maersk) Terminals of Denmark.

RELATED:

Exports post gains at Port of Los Angeles

Newport Harbor dredging project finished

Ports rail line gets greener

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: A crane operator at Long Beach Container Terminal lifts a cargo container from a truck for loading onto an Orient Overseas Container Line ship. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Thin profits, high fuel costs winnow Pacific trade players

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Most of the cargo lumbering along on the gigantic ships of the transpacific trade are traveling between Asia and the United States. But only two U.S.-flagged and -headquartered companies have a piece of the action, and it's a very small piece indeed.

As of Thursday, there will be only one.

On Nov. 10, a cargo ship operated by Charlotte, N.C.-based Horizon Lines will depart the U.S. West Coast with supplies for Guam for the last time. That voyage will end the company's Five Star Express service between China, Guam and the U.S., which had been in operation for less than a year.

Horizon Lines had begun the service in December, when the recovery from the deep global recession still seemed strong, and had hoped to grab a share of what was then a lucrative route in international trade. But trade levels failed to meet expectations, competition drove down freight rates, and high oil prices drove up the cost of the bunker fuel that the ships use.

"This has been a very difficult decision," said Stephen H. Fraser, president and chief executive of Horizon Lines. "Our decision to exit this highly volatile market will allow Horizon to focus on our core domestic ocean shipping services, and provide the opportunity to produce a more profitable and stable financial performance over time."

The transpacific trade, like most of the world's major ocean shipping routes, is dominated by huge foreign carriers that are large enough to roll with tough times. The three biggest -- APM Maersk of Copenhagen, Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Marseille-based CMA-CGM -- each has a fleet larger than that of the U.S. Navy.

Horizon is small by comparison, ranked 33rd in the world by the French maritime industry consulting firm AXS Alphaliner in terms of the amount of cargo it can haul and the number of ships it has in operation.

Alphaliner said that Horizon is one of six companies that entered the transpacific trade in the last two years. All but two have since dropped out.

Horizon said the amount that it could charge customers to transport a 40-foot cargo container has fallen 37% in the last 12 months, down to $1,500. During the same period, Horizon's fuel costs rose by 40%.

Oakland-based Matson Navigation Co., a subsidiary of Honolulu-based Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and the last U.S. carrier on the transpacific trade route, has said it will offer service to Horizon's customers.

Also:

Cargo surge takes a holiday

Manufacturing growth slowed in October

Chinese economy grows at slowest pace in two years

-- Ronald D. White

Photo: A forklift arranges cargo containers near a port in Shanghai. Declining freight rates and high fuel costs along the ocean route between Asia and the U.S. have resulted in a rising number of companies abandoning the trade. Credit: Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press

Seaport traffic will grow slightly through the end of the year

Katie Falkenberg  For The Times
Global Port Tracker, the monthly study of retail goods imported to the U.S. through the nation's largest seaports, has greatly reduced its expectations for the remainder of 2011. The numbers suggest the economic recovery is weaker than  previously believed.

One month ago, the report's authors, Hackett Associates, had been expecting a nearly 12% increase in imported goods in September. The jump in September was also to have been followed by a slow tapering off of holidays sales traffic, but the initial surge never materialized.

Now, Global Port Tracker says that cargo imports through the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle Tacoma, New York-New Jersey, Virginia, Savannah, Charleston and Houston rose by just 2.7% in September when compared to the same month a year ago.

October is now expected to show a 2.6% increase in import traffic compared to a year earlier, but the National Retail Federation was putting the numbers in the best possible light.

"Retailers are poised to succeed in maintaining the careful balance between inventory and sales that keeps customers happy while keeping retailers profitable,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation.

The National Retail Federation is also forecasting 2.8% growth in holiday sales this November and December, for a total of $465.6 billion, compared to the same two months at the end of last year.

Although the numbers aren't a strong as the National Retail Federation would have liked, Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett said that it could have been much worse.

“General economic indicators are giving us a mixed set of signals,” Hackett said. “Yet at the same time there are indications that things are not quite that bad. We are of the opinion that the probability for economic growth is higher than the probability of recession.”

Also: Cargo surge takes a holiday

Cleaner engines for short line railroad

 Southern California needs this jobs generator

--Ronald D. White

Photo: A Pacific Harbor Line locomotive on the right hauls cargo containers of imported goods bound for the nation's store shelves. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times

 

Princess Cruises to return to Mexican ports

Princess Cruises plans to return to two Mexican ports it dropped due to crime-related violence
Months after growing crime-related violence in Mexico prompted Princess Cruises to cancel stops at Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, the company has added the two Mexican ports to next year's itinerary.

No other cruise line has yet to follow Princess' lead.

Princess, owned by Carnival Corp., announced in August that it would no longer drop anchor in Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta because of growing concern about drug violence in the country.

In place of stops to Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, Princess added cruises from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas and Hawaii.

Other cruise lines that operate out of Los Angeles, including Carnival Cruise Lines and Disney Cruise Line, have also pulled out of Mazatlan over the last few months because of fears of crime-related violence.

But Princess this week announced a tentative plan to return to Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta when it released its itinerary for 2012 and 2013.

The cruise company said it will monitor the violence in Mexico to determine if it would continue to serve the two ports.

"We are planning for a long way out," said cruise line spokeswoman Julie Benson. "We look forward to returning to these ports and putting them back on the schedule."

Mexico has been in the grips of violence in recent years as powerful drug cartels battle for shares of the drug trade. Tourism officials have been quick to say that popular spots such as Mazatlan are safe for tourists.

But that changed after a Feb. 22 shooting that left two dead in the parking lot of a hotel in Mazatlan's tourist area.

A travel warning by the U.S. State Department, issued in April, said the violence in Mexico usually targets "Mexican citizens associated with criminal activity," but it went on to say that "the security situation poses serious risks for U.S. citizens as well."

RELATED:

2 ships moving from Port of Los Angeles as Mexican cruises slump in popularity

Mexico: Disney, Norwegian cruise lines cancel stops in Mazatlan after deadly shooting

-- Hugo Martin

Photo: The Sapphire Princess sails from Los Angeles to Mexico. Credit: Princess Cruises

 

Port of Long Beach to acquire Long Beach World Trade Center

WTC Exterior Bldg Pic_1 The Long Beach World Trade Center, a signature high-rise office building on the city’s skyline, is set to be acquired for $130 million by the Port of Long Beach.

The port’s Board of Harbor Commissioners has tentatively agreed to purchase the 27-story building on Ocean Boulevard. It is in the due-diligence phase of a deal expected to close Oct. 30.

The sale would be one of the largest in Los Angeles County this year, said real estate broker Bill Townsend of Inco Commercial, who is an advisor to the port.

“It’s a rare opportunity to purchase a Class A office building at a bottom-of-market price,” Townsend said.

The seller, Legacy Partners, paid nearly $150 million for the property in 2007, when commercial real estate values were last peaking.

It is “imperative” that the port relocate its headquarters, the board said in a statement. The current six-story headquarters was built in 1959 and is obsolete, overcrowded and seismically unsafe for the port’s 600 employees, it said.

The World Trade Center, completed in 1989, has nearly 575,000 square feet of space and is about 70% leased. The port would receive rental income from tenants such as law firms and the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

The center includes a two-story retail plaza that connects to the adjacent Hilton Hotel.

RELATED:   

County buys former Fleetwood buildings in Riverside

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-- Roger Vincent

Photo: Long Beach World Trade Center. Credit: Legacy Partners

 

Surge of holiday retail goods is starting at U.S. ports

Tugs assist and MOL ship at it prepares to dock at the TraPac terminal at the Port of Los AngelesThe relative doldrums for import cargo traffic through the nation's major seaports are finally over, according to a report released this week by the Washington consulting firm Hackett Associates.

The group was predicting an 11.8% increase in cargo for September, compared with the same month last year, as retailers gear up for having goods on store shelves for the end of the year holidays.

That would end a summer-long downturn at the nation's major trade gateways and provide a welcome  employment boost for workers all along the international trade supply chain. Those jobs include the longshore workers who load and unload ships, short-haul and long-haul truck drivers, railroad employees and warehouse and distribution center staff, to name a few.

"With the most crucial spending period of the year just weeks away, retailers have made careful decisions on the amount of merchandise they need to properly stock their stores during the holidays,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation, which commissions the monthly Global Port Tracker report.

Gold added that 2011 has been a very different year for goods movement than 2010, when retailers were shipping goods much earlier to restock inventories that had reached record low levels. “This year, retailers have the luxury of importing holiday goods later than last year, which better ensures their inventory levels will accurately meet consumer demand," Gold said.

The surge in imported goods is expected to continue through October, with Hackett Associates predicting an increase of 9.5%, compared with October, 2010. An increase of 8% is expected in November, as the surge begins to taper off. By December, cargo movement through the ports is expected to be only 4.5% above the year earlier totals.

Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, cautioned against expectations of a sustained recovery in goods movement beyond the end of 2011, saying that there were too many uncertainties about the strength of the U.S. economy.

“We should not be lulled into too much confidence by the relatively strong import volumes of August and September,” Hackett said. “These are linked to the low levels of inventory that needed to be raised to meet the return-to-school and post-Thanksgiving sales. The third quarter will be positive for the ocean carriers and retailers but that will turn into negative growth" in 2012.

The Global Port Tracker report covers the U.S. trade gateways of Long Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, New York-New Jersey, Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, and Houston. It focuses solely on imports and does not count U.S.-produced goods that are destined for sale overseas.

RELATED:

Dockworkers join forces with Panama Canal pilots

Cargo terminal operators agree to cut emissions

A strong year for exports

Photo: Tugboats assist an MOL container ship at it prepares to dock at the TraPac terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. Credit: Port of Los Angeles

-- Ronald D. White

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