Port Watch – 13 Thousand Reasons to be Positive

Logically, a longer month begets more activity. March 2017 was certainly of that ilk for nearly all of Texas’ ports. Yet, in a month with 10% more days, things were not quite 10% better but, at 7%, they were good enough to creep 1.2% above 2016’s first quarter’s totals. Of particular note was the fact that the Houston Ship Channel registered a 13% monthly rise in tow movements at more than 13,000 – a number that has not been seen in several years.


Overall, there was a disparate performance variation amongst the port. Thus, while the Port of Brownsville suffered a 19% fall in arrivals over the past month, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the port of Sabine rebounded an impressive 23%. Unfortunately, for both ports, they remain well below last year’s arrival number to the tune of 11% and 4.5% respectively. The port of Freeport’s monthly rise was nearly as impressive as Sabine’s – at just shy 19%.

What is even more impressive is its year-to-date performance which currently leads the pack at 29%. Indeed, Freeport’s trade momentum continues to build as bolstered by one of its highest monthly arrival numbers in its history.
Texas City’s monthly and year-to-date tallies were not as negative as Brownsville’s, but they were both off by 4% and 2.5%, respectively. The chemical throughput on the waterfront has been climbing but not enough to offset the barrels that have shifted from vessels to pipelines. Granted, Texas City is in the midst of several recapitalization projects which, when completed, should push the arrival numbers into positive territory. The nearby port of Galveston did not experience any monthly change causing it to slide a bit deeper into the red as compared to last’s year initial quarter. At this juncture, it is difficult to predict if the stubborn oil patch malaise in the deep Gulf will stir from its slumber sooner rather than later. Hopefully, the promises of the new administration will rekindle deep water production. Corpus Christi did not have a banner month but it was just enough to outpace February by 3%.
Houston kept things in the middle. At just shy of 700 arrivals during the month of March, it was nearly 6% better than the preceding month. For the year, the port remains 2.6% above the prior one. All in all, as reflected in the port’s TEU count, things are fairly active. Thus, 5% more container ship arrivals resulted in 17% containers. On a year-to-date basis, the container count fared even better with a 19% jump from 3% more vessel calls. Bulkers and general cargo had a particularly rosy month with 38% and 36% more arrivals, respectively. While those gains were not enough to pull general cargo out of the red vis-à-vis 2016, bulkers further distanced themselves from 2016’s abysmal performance with a 14% higher arrival yield through the first quarter of 2017.


The majority of the remaining vessel categories ended the year’s first quarter in better shape than 2016. Chemical tankers, even when factoring a 9% monthly wane, are up nearly 25% against last year’s arrivals. LPG vessels enjoyed a very positive month with a 36% leap resulting in a 4% year-to-date gain. Car carriers are flat for the year. Nonetheless a 43% climb over the course of the last month bodes well on the consumer front. Things were not quite as sanguine for tank vessels which fell 4% over the last month and are down 10% for the year. Finally, ocean-going tows registered a monthly arrival increase of 4%. Yet, this pales in comparison to the fact that this vessel type is outdistancing last year’s first quarter by more than 71%.
Gauging the region’s maritime trade thus far indicates that the uncertainty of last year is giving rise to a more optimistic tone on the waterfront. Perhaps one of the more accurate indicators is the inland tow activity. This mode of transportation is responsible for the ebb and flow of the distribution of imports and exports to and from the inland waterway system. In the wake of the incredible surge of tows, there are at least 13 thousand reasons to be positive about 2017’s trade picture.

  • Date May 9, 2017
  • Tags May 2017