One of the many indicators that we track is that of the Los Angeles and Long Beach port data. Combined these two ports handle almost 50% of the shipping traffic for the United States so they are obvioulsy useful in order to follow global trade. As you can see in the chart port data s very seasonal. You can see that total trade (the green line) typically peaks in October and typically bottoms in February. Sometimes this cycle is off by a month in either direction but for the most part it’s very consistent. (Click on chart to enlarge)
LA and Long Beach Port Data
While total shipping volume, outbound plus inbound containers, is down over 25% from the peak back in September of 2007 it is important to look at the same month due to seasonality. Looking at shipping volume from Feb 2010 against the peak Feb in 2007 shipping is down -13.7% or 118,562 containers.
So is trade improving or getting worse? By breaking the data down into performance by month we can see if this January and February are better or worse than other years. In the chart below you can see that for 2010 Jan and Feb were both actually slightly above their historical averages. The average January sees traffic shrink by -3.10% and this year it only shrank by -3.05%. February sees an average decline of -4.42% and for 2010 it only declined -2.89%. (Click on chart to enlarge)
Port Data Seasonality For Jan And Feb
Frankly right now the data isn’t screaming at us. Numbers are coming in close to the historical norms but overall there is little to get too worked up about. Basically port data is currently telling us that the recovery is still in progress but that nothing is really improving or declining. What would be a constructive sign would be to see March where we have a historical average increase of 10.69%. A large miss would be a bad sign while an average or even slightly higher number would be considered by us to be very bullish.