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Port of Los Angeles imports soar on restocking, holiday preparations

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09/15/2020 | 03:24pm EDT

LOS ANGELES, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Port of Los Angeles container volumes hit an all-time high in August, as importers restocked warehouses and retailers prepared for the upcoming holiday season, but officials warned that uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 remains an economic threat.

"The future of the economy really depends on the future of the pandemic, and the path of the virus right now continues to be the biggest uncertainty," said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation.

Total volume at the busiest U.S. gateway for ocean trade increased 11.7% to 961,832.8 20-foot equivalent units (TEU). Imports jumped 18% in August, while exports fell 10.2%.

Based on the August result and data suggesting a continued robust recovery in September and October, 2020 volume at the port is now expected to fall 9%, less than the previous call for a 15% drop.

"One month, or even one quarter, does not make a trend," said Gene Seroka, the port's executive director, who added that year-to-date cargo volumes remain down almost 12% due to the pandemic and the ongoing tariff standoff with China.

U.S. businesses are grappling with how to plan for the future. COVID-19 hotspots are flaring up around the country and the pandemic will soon collide with flu season, raising risks for a nation that is trying to get back to work.

"Our economy remains in a very precarious position," Seroka said.

Retailers and other importers are taking a cautious approach to avoid getting stuck with excess inventory.

One forecast issued on Tuesday projected that 2020 holiday sales growth would be the most tepid in at least a decade.

Accounting and consulting firm Deloitte expects a 1% to 1.5% year-over-year increase in holiday sales measured from November 2020 through January 2021. Those sales grew 4.1% during the year-earlier period. (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles Editing by Paul Simao)

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