East Coast ports may be seeing benefits from the Panama Canal, but that hasn't stopped improving ship volumes at the biggest Puget Sound ports.

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Import traffic at the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the pairing of the waterborne units of the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma, rose a strong 10 percent last month, defying a troubling slowdown at some other West Coast gateways.

Full imports totaled 115,960 TEUs, or twenty-foot equivalents, the standard measure for cargo containers. Including outbound empty containers, the alliance set a record for international traffic, which increased 18 percent to 255,817 TEUs. Full exports rose 8 percent in May.

The jump has added significance because the megaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reported tepid growth in May, leading some industry experts to say the “Panama Canal effect” was kicking in. Virginia and Georgia port authorities saw robust traffic increases. The Panama Canal, widened a year ago, now allows large container ships to bypass the West Coast and sail to U.S. East and Gulf coast ports.

Nor is May a fluke. Full import volumes were up 11 percent year to date, full exports by 5 percent, and most other measures remain healthy. An exception: domestic traffic. Alaska shipping declined 8 percent because of the state’s continuing economic struggles (aka low oil prices). Hawaii volumes, diverted via California, were off 7 percent.

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U.S. exports are doing better this year despite the strong dollar, up nearly 7 percent through May, according to WISERTrade, a research company that follows trade. China’s economic situation is looking better (for now). Washington’s exports were off 4 percent, led by a 12 percent drop in transportation goods, which are primarily airplanes.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

It’s been a decade

Didn’t return to the moon

We got the iPhone