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March exports jump at Los Angeles, Long Beach ports

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together make up the nation’s busiest shipping container complex, showed gains in cargo traffic for the fourth straight month in March, boosting trade-related employment in Southern California.

In Los Angeles, the largest U.S. port, exports jumped 15.8% compared with March 2009, driven by such items as scrap paper, scrap metal, agricultural products and finished manufactured goods. Long Beach’s exports also rose strongly, 10.9%, as both ports benefited from the weakness of the U.S. dollar against other major world currencies. The exchange rates made U.S. goods more attractive and affordable overseas.

One local company that was taking advantage of the dollar’s weakness -- and of the push for use of alternative energy sources -- was Trojan Battery Co. in Santa Fe Springs. The 85-year-old manufacturer, which specializes in powering electric golf carts, is branching out internationally with batteries to collect and store solar and wind-generated energy for use in areas far from traditional electric grids.

“We think that is going to be a huge market for us,” said Mathew Segal, Trojan’s senior vice president for corporate development.

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For the seven-month period that ended March 31, Trojan’s exports were up 17% from the same period a year earlier, with most of that shipping out of Los Angeles.

March imports rose 10.8% at the Port of Long Beach but fell 2.9% at the Port of Los Angeles compared with the same month last year.

Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, said that cargo traffic numbers “are getting better. Hopefully, things are really beginning to pick up.”

But, he noted, the sharp increases for last month resulted from comparing the figures with March 2009, which was one of the port’s worst months last year.

Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said port officials doubted that the import numbers signaled a significant shift in preference among importers toward Long Beach. He pointed out that Long Beach cargo traffic declined 22.9% last year while Los Angeles’ declined only 14.9%.

The trade rebound has begun to improve the economic outlook in a region that has grown dependent on jobs in logistics, such as the warehouse and distribution network in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

At least 2,400 logistics jobs will be added in those counties this year, said John Husing, an economist and forecaster who tracks international trade.

“That’s not counting hires through temporary agencies, and that is the first thing that employers do after a downturn,” Husing said. “They are cautious and hire part-time help first, so the job gains should be higher than 2,400.”

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In March, Long Beach had 206,652 import containers, up from 186,450 in March 2009, and 130,495 container exports, up from 117,674.

In the first quarter, the Long Beach port’s cargo traffic was up 15.9% to 1.3 million containers, in part because of a surge of empty containers heading back to Asia, which port officials hope is a sign of Asian manufacturers needing them for product exports back to the U.S.

Los Angeles’ March imports were down to 269,634 containers from 277,570 a year earlier. Exports rose to 161,817 containers from 139,775 in March 2009.

In the first quarter, trade at the port of Los Angeles, including empty containers, was up 7.9% to 1.6 million containers, from 1.5 million in the same quarter last year.

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ron.white@latimes.com


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