Uncommon Indicator: Cargo Traffic Surging

Cargo traffic

Los Angeles is of course best known for being home to arguably the most glamorous industry in America–moving pictures. But another, decidedly less glamorous, business has been bustling in the Southland and some experts believe this quickened pace of transactions is solid evidence that the economic climate is improving. We’re talking about the cargo industry.

In January, traffic at the nation’s most robust ports, in L.A. and Long Beach, ticked up 1.6%, meaning over 1 million containers were handled this year versus just over 986,000 a year ago. While the improvement is modest, it takes on greater significance when you consider that for all of 2009, activity at the two ports was down 17.4% from the previous year.

The improvements were driven by exports, which accumulated a 31.8% rise over 2009. Imports, meanwhile, were down slightly from the prior January.

This news coincides with The New York Times op-ed today underscoring the United States’ continued dominance vis a vis global services exporting. The Times piece notes that: “While trade deficits in goods have been enormous–$840 billion in 2008–the country runs a large and growing surplus in services: we exported
$144 billion more in services than we imported, dwarfing the surpluses
of $75 billion in 2000 and $58 billion in 1992.”

Three sectors have led the way–travel, royalties and license fees and financial services. Those areas accounted for more than $260 billion in 2008 alone. So if you are looking to start a new service company you might consider licensing travel ideas to banks. Could be bigger than plastics.

Image: The Los Angeles TimesMM