The Port of Long Beach has recorded handling 402,710 teu (20 ft equivalent units) of containers in September, setting a new record, which represents an 8 per cent rise over the same month last year. It was the second consecutive month that the port, the nation's busiest container port, has established new highs for total volume and imports. 'We've been saying pretty much the same thing for many months now,' said Don Wylie, the port's managing director of maritime services. 'But the totals, specifically the import totals, reflect our strong domestic economy. And the outlook, from everything we see, continues to be very good.' Long Beach port, which handled 399,303 teu in August, said September was the first time that it had surpassed 400,000 teu in a single month. Between October 1998 and the end of September this year, the port handled 4.3 million teu through its berths, an 8.3 per cent rise over the 1997-98 fiscal year. The year ended in September with a record month for imports. The number of inbound containers climbed to 219,080 teu, a 10.1 per cent increase compared with September last year. The record volume indicates retailers are expecting a strong holiday shopping season. September is usually a big import month for Long Beach, as retailers begin shipping high volumes of Asian-made clothing, toys and consumer electronics for the end-of-the-year holidays. Exports rose 11.6 per cent in September to 82,308 teu. While still well below the export levels prior to the Asian economic crisis, the third straight month of increasing exports suggests that the Asia economy continues to improve. Empty containers, most of which headed back to Asia, rose only 1.3 per cent in September to 101,322 teu. For the 12 months to the end of September, imports rose 11.8 per cent, a decline from the 15.1 per cent jump in 1996-97. But the rise in imports was still a sign that the US economy is strong and Americans were buying bargain-priced Asian-made goods. Amid the continuing weakness in the Asian economies, exports fell 2.4 per cent - an improvement over the 9.9 per cent decline in 1996-97. The number of empty containers climbed 12 per cent, compared with 82.5 per cent in 1996-97 when the trade gap was widening dramatically.