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Business & Economy

Forecast: Ports of LA and Long Beach should benefit from steady economic growth in 2013

A cargo ship stands on Long Beach harbor, California, in 2012.
A cargo ship stands on Long Beach harbor, California, in 2012.
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

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The U.S. economy will continue modest growth this year, and that should boost activity at West Coast ports.

That's the consensus at the annual "Pulse of the Ports" Peak Season forecast Wednesday in Long Beach. Representatives from all along the supply chain—from the docks to the store shelf—expect U.S. ports to be busier this year than last.

Jonathan Gold, vice president of the National Retail Federation, forecast a 3.2 percent jump in imports nationwide in 2013, with the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach seeing a slightly higher 3.4 percent rise. 

Economist Walter Kemmsies with the maritime consulting firm Moffat & Nichol said West Coast ports—and the Southern California ports in particular—will benefit from the resurgence of the housing market.  

"A lot of the home furnishing goods: The electronics come from China, Japan and Korea; higher end furniture comes from Asia," Kemmsies said. "Those are very large categories of commodities that fill the boxes."

Full boxes—and more of them—means more work for people at the docks and in warehouses, and more goods for trucks and trains to move. 

Among the challenges facing the ports this year are automatic federal spending cuts of sequestration. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has cut worker overtime and could eventually furlough employees. John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, says that will hurt the ports of L.A. and Long Beach since they rely heavily on Customs personnel working overtime.   

“For some terminals who wanted to open on the weekends, there weren’t Customs personnel to do that,” McLaurin said. “So they weren’t able to move cargo at off-peak hours.“

McLaurin says it’s an inconvenience that local customs officials are trying to work through, but the problem could get worse if Congress doesn’t move to address the overtime cuts and furloughs.