How Manifest Journals Transforms US Customs Import Data
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How We Calculate TEUs for Each Container on Each Bill of Lading

You might be wondering why we are explaining how we measure TEUs so that you can measure the activity of foreign manufacturers and importers.

After all, for a database this should be a straight forward task; for each bill of lading just get a sum of TEUs for each container.

Here is the arithmetic for a bill of lading with five 2-TEU containers:

5 containers * 2 TEUs = 10 TEUs

Here are the problems in doing this simple arithmetic with the raw US Customs Import Data.

  1. The raw US Customs Import Data does not state the TEU values for individual containers.

  2. The raw US Customs Import Data does not state the total TEU value for an individual bill of lading.

  3. The raw US Customs Import Data does not state if an individual container is:
- Full
- Less-Than-Container Load
- Full but Divided

We overcome these problems with these processes:

  1. We calculate a TEU value for every container on every bill of lading.
  2. We apply a total TEU value for every bill of lading.
  3. For every bill of lading, we determine if the container(s) on the bill of lading is: Full, LCL, or Full but Divided.
(Note: We also test if the cargo on a bill of lading is containerized or break bulk. If you assumed that all bill of ladings were containerized cargo, you would overstate the amount of TEUs.)

Calculating TEU Values for Individual Containers

Again, the raw US Customs Data does not state the TEU value for individual containers.

The raw US Customs Data does have three fields that we can use to calculate TEU values.

For each container on a bill of lading:

  1. All three of the fields may have values.
  2. None of the three fields may have values.
  3. If none of the three fields have values, we have a back-up procedure that assigns the TEU values.
Assigning a Status of ĖFull, LCL, or Full but Dividedóto an Individual Bill of Lading

If we just stopped at calculating a TEU value for each container we would not get the correct totals for the activities of foreign manufacturers and US importers.

After we assign a TEU value, we test if each container on the bill of lading is Full, LCL, or Full but Divided.

(Note: In one particular trade lane, we have seen freight forwarders combining LCL and Full Containers on the same bill of lading.)

If we didnít test if the container was Full, LCL or Full but Divided, we would grossly overstate the TEU totals for foreign manufacturers and US importers.

How We Determine a Full Container

We state that a container is Full if: on a specific vessel voyage, a single pair of foreign manufacturers and US importers matches up with the data for the cargo in the container.

In turn, if a bill of lading has two or more containers, we test if the single pair of foreign manufacturers and US importers applies to the other containers.


Breakdown of Container Status for 2009
Container Status Count of Bills of Lading (b) Count of Actual Containers (c) Potential for Overstatement (b Ė c)
LCL Containers 1,177,081 146,762 1,030,319
Full But Divided 987,434 294,093 693,341
Full N/A 6,712,599 N/A


How to Figure the % for Potential for Overstatement
LCL Potential
Over statement
Full But
Potential for
Over statement(b)
Total Potential
Over statement
(a + b) = (c1)
Full Container
% for Potential
Over statement
(c1 ų c2)
1,030,319 693,341 1,723,660 6,712,599 25.7%

Without accounting for LCL Containers and Full But Divided Containers, we would overstate the number of Full Containers by 1,723,660 or 25.7%.

How We Would Overstate TEUs if We Didnít Account For LCL Containers

Letís say that on a vessel voyage that there was a fictitious container number ABCD12345678.

ABCD12345678 is a 40 foot container or 2 TEUs.

Now letís also say that:

1. ABCD12345678 appears on 20 different bill of ladings.

2. On the 20 different bill of ladings we find 20 different pairs of foreign manufacturers and US importers.

If we calculated 2 TEUs for each of the 20 bill of ladings, we would be wrong.

In other words, we didnít have a total of 40 TEUs just because of 20 bill of ladings are attached to ABCD12345678.

ABCD12345678 is a single 2 TEU container it just so happens that 20 different shipments are inside ABCD12345678.

How We Would Overstate the Number of LCL Shipments because of Full But Divided Containers

We test each container that we assign LCL status.

We test to make sure that the container is LCL and not Full but Divided.

Letís use the fictitious container number EFGH9876543. Letís say EFGH9876543 appears on 25 different bills of lading.

Just because EFGH9876543 appears on 25 bills of ladings doesnít mean that there are 25 different LCL shipments.

US importers often consolidate containers at a foreign port. For instance, a US importer may consolidate a container in Hong Kong.

In the consolidated container in Hong Kong, you may find cargo from China, India and Thailand.

In other words, the number of consolidated shipments inside the container doesnít change the fact EFGH9876543 is a full container going to a single US importer.

We call these containers: Full but Divided.

How We Fix the Four Big Problems in the Raw Data from US Customs
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