Port Recovery? It's in the Numbers

By Mark Montague

There’s no shortage of opinion about how long it’s going to take West Coast ports to return to normal operations. It’s easy to say, “It’ll take months.” But I’m a numbers guy. We can be more precise than that.

Let’s look at trends in load-to-truck ratios in the Los Angeles area. 

In October, the outbound load-to-truck ratio peaked at about 6.5—that is, there were 6.5 loads available for every available truck in that market.

This number began to drop sharply in November as shippers diverted more cargo to the East Coast. By Feb. 21, the load-to-truck ratio in Los Angeles was just 0.3. Brutal.

(Charleston, S.C., by comparison, had a load-to-truck ratio of 6.6 on Feb. 24. Norfolk was 5.2.)

Has the situation changed dramatically since Feb. 21?

Maybe not dramatically, but load-to-truck ratios do show immediate and steady progress.

On Feb. 24, within a week of the two sides settling on new contract terms, Los Angeles outbound lanes were running a load-to-truck ratio of 0.7. Ontario, Calif., was 0.4. Oakland and Seattle “improved” to 0.7.

The amount of available spot freight increased day by day. On DAT load boards, Los Angeles volume sequentially measured 608 load posts on Feb. 24; 771 posts on Feb. 25; 976 on Feb. 26; and 1,616 on Feb. 27.

No doubt, it will take time for all of those 40-foot and 20-foot boxes to get drayed to a warehouse, unloaded, and in many cases go through customs clearance before being trucked outbound. Typically this is a 25- to 41-day cycle.

Few indicators reflect supply and demand in the marketplace like load-to-truck ratios. Watch the numbers in late March and April. They should be again tilting in the favor of truckers.