Port Watch-A Classic Fall

Tom Marian
Buffalo Marine Service, Inc.

On the bluewater front, vessel arrivals are running nearly 5% ahead of 2017’s state-wide arrival numbers. Fortunately, the monthly picture was not as bleak as that of the inland tows but the aggregate numbers were still off by 4%. Only two ports managed to post monthly gains – Galveston and Sabine. Galveston is enjoying a bit of a bounce after a couple of moribund years. It currently remains over 9% above the prior year’s arrival count after eking out a 1.4% monthly rise. Things are a bit more torrid in Sabine after registering the highest percentage gain for all Texas ports at over 10%. Sabine’s solid performance this year has positioned itself nearly 17% beyond where it was this time last year. Its arrival numbers are being buoyed by a bullish petrochemical market.

The ports of Brownsville and Corpus Christi tallied the smallest monthly losses out of the remaining ports. Brownsville saw one fewer vessel over the last month which translates to a 4% drop but remains up 7.6% for the year. Corpus Christi also saw a 4% monthly wane; however, unlike it smaller cousin to the southwest, it remains over 8% behind 2017’s arrival count. Nevertheless, petrochemical exports should continue to increase in this port and a recently renegotiated NAFTA will undoubtedly continue to bolster trade in this corridor of the maritime space.

The geographic proximity of Freeport and Texas City appear to have influenced one another’s arrival count over the last month. Specifically, both ports suffered double-digit lulls but remain “in the good” on a year-over-year basis. Freeport’s monthly arrival count dropped by nearly 11% but continues to outpace 2017’s arrival figures by 3%. Meanwhile, Texas City’s monthly arrival count descended 12%. Nonetheless, thanks to increased throughput on the petrochemical export front, is faring 5.5% better than last year.

The Astros’ hometown port waned while the team reigned. Houston’s ever-busy ship channel saw a lessening in vessel arrivals over the last month to the tune of 5.6%. Irrespective of that, activity on the waterfront remains robust vis-à-vis last year as evidenced by an arrival tally that is nearly 4% higher than last year’s. There were some interesting developments over the last month. September had the fewest tanker arrivals of the year which resulted in an 11% fall. It remains 6% ahead of the prior year’s performance. General cargo posted its largest percentage drop for the year at 21%. It had been holding its own against last year but is now just over 2% below last year’s count. Whether this is due to shale gas field capacity issues or a pause tied to tariff-induced drags on demand remains to be seen.

Containers and cars in terms of the ships that carry those cargoes were down for the month but both categories are enjoying record years as the region’s burgeoning population and the replacement of that which was lost during Hurricane Harvey continues unabated. Bulk vessels and oceangoing tows were the only two categories that enjoyed positive arrival numbers for the month. The former was up 3%, the latter 12%. Finally, chemical tankers and LPG vessel matched their respective prior month’s arrival counts. That said both categories are export darlings with double digit percentage increases over the last year underscoring the continued rise of petrochemical exports from the hemisphere’s largest petrochemical port.

Thus, with the approach of the fall classic, there were more downs than ups. Some of that was attributable to a rather impressive August which resulted in a lull in activity before a very strong finish in October. Others have observed that things may have plateaued for the year given some of the looming uncertainty on the international trade environment. While that remains to be seen, there are no immediate signs in the region that economic activity is cooling off.

Realistically, the final quarter of the year is poised to push 2018 into the trade record books. Hopefully, last year’s World Series champions will set a few more records of their own.

  • Date October 22, 2018
  • Tags 2018 October