Import Volumes Into U.S. Seaports Grew at Rapid Pace in April

Import volumes into the largest U.S. seaports grew at a rapid clip in April, outpacing exports in a sign of strong confidence in consumer markets.

The neighboring Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., the top two container ports in the U.S. and the main gateways for trade with Asia, handled 660,248 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, of imported goods last month and 273,992 TEUs of exports. TEUs are a standard measure for container cargo.

The combined imports at the ports were up 11.7% and exports rose 6.6% over the same month a year ago.

The strong shipping volumes suggest U.S. trade is continuing to grow at a fast pace this spring despite heated rhetoric in Washington and suggestions from the Trump administration that major trade agreements need to be renegotiated. The figures also show inbound flows still growing well ahead of exports after the U.S. trade deficit expanded by 7.5% in the first quarter.

According to research firm Panjiva, which tracks trade data, overall import shipments to the U.S. rose 9.7% in April -- the fastest rate of growth in over a year. Among the best-performing import categories in April, according to Panjiva, were iron and steel as well as automobiles -- products that may be at risk if new tariffs come into effect. Import shipments from China and the European Union, which led the increases, rose more than 16%.

Chinese authorities reported this week that exports from China rose 8% in April, and imports climbed 11.9%, both below forecast and contributing to a rise in China's trade surplus to $38.05 billion from $23.93 billion in March.

On the East Coast, both the Virginia and South Carolina port authorities reported their strongest April volumes on record, as dockworkers in South Carolina handled 189,315 TEUs and the Virginia ports moved 225,126 TEUs.

For U.S. ports, April isn't typically among the strongest months annually, as inbound cargo usually doesn't rise until the summer and fall months, ahead of the holiday shopping season. The latest monthly Global Port Tracker report, released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates LLC, estimates total container import volume across major U.S. ports of 1.56 million TEUs in April. The report estimated monthly volumes for May through September will all surpass 1.6 million TEUs.

American consumer spending grew through March and an April survey found that consumer confidence in the U.S. economy remains high. While there was some upward pressure on the price of imports in April, the data suggest overall improvement in the global economy.

Write to Erica E. Phillips at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 11, 2017 15:33 ET (19:33 GMT)