Port Watch-Catching Up

Tom Marian
Buffalo Marine Service, Inc.

Perhaps one of the more exciting events in track and field is the 4 X 400 relay. Each runner – save the first leg – is under pressure to make up lost time from his or her previous teammate’s leg or keep the lead the respective runner had when the baton was passed. Of course, the athletes that start the race have their own set of pressures in getting rid of their batons before their competitors. In the race between 2018 and 2019, 2018 emerged from the blocks far more quickly than 2019. It did not help that there were a few stumbles and headwinds towards the end of the first quarter. That left 2019’s second quarter runner with a sizeable deficit to close.

Statewide things are in a dead-heat in the year-to-year race after last month’s 1% gain. The circumstances in the brownwater competition are not nearly as tight since the 2nd quarter leg lags by a formidable 11% even after a respectable 4% monthly gain. 2019’s Team Brownsville failed to gain any ground over the course of the last month and continues to trail last year by over 3%. Things are a bit closer for Team Corpus Christi which also kept pace with the prior month as it is only 1% behind 2018’s numbers. Corpus Christi is confident that it will catch up to its nearest annual competitor when it hands off the baton to the 3rd quarter.

Team Galveston lost a bit of momentum coming around the most recent monthly turn as it sprinted to the mid-way point of year-over-year competition. Yet, despite experiencing the largest monthly drop of all the state’s port teams, it remains well ahead of last year’s competition. Its blistering 2019 pace – currently over 23% beyond the prior year’s – is benefiting from a vibrant cruise business and an expanding customer base. The only other team that lost ground over the last month was Texas City by 5%. Granted, its 2nd leg start was so torrid it would have been difficult to maintain a triple-digit arrival pace. Consequently, it has settled into a steady pace as it attempts to erase a 6% year-to-date deficit.Team Freeport’s 2nd leg has been quite solid. It gained 1% over the course of the last month. Freeport’s 2019 relay team is a respectable 5% ahead of last year. In fact, coaches are banking on the rest of the relay team maintaining the gains of the first two quarters – barring a drop of the baton. Team Sabine chalked up one of the most sizeable monthly gains capitalizing on a stable demand for its petrochemical bounty.

As the largest, by far, of all the teams, Houston has several categories of participants. Houston’s lead off runner was quick off the blocks but stumbled for the majority of its leg; leaving the 2nd quarter runner well behind its 2018 competitor. Nevertheless, despite daunting headwinds, this quarter has been posting consecutive monthly gains with the most recent one just shy 1%. At present, it remains over 4% off of last year’s pace.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the categories failed to gain any ground over the last month; thereby, keeping the team from catching its prior-year rival. Tankers continue to gain momentum with its 3rd consecutive monthly gain − the most recent logging in at just under 13%. It is unlikely that the 2nd leg runner will close the gap by the time it hands the baton to its 3rd quarter teammate since it is still chasing an 8.4% deficit. The positive news is that oil exports continue to grow and demand for sour crudes remains unabated. Chemical tankers are neck and neck with 2018 and need to pick up the pace after the most recent falter of nearly 2% in order to edge out last year’s tally. General cargo nearly fell out of the race with its most recent 28.4% plunge; however, it can erase its slight 0.4% lag with a strong kick into the 3rd quarter. Bulkers also are slightly behind last year’s competition by just over 1% after posting a commendable 11.3% monthly gain. Both of these competitors have fought off various setbacks attributable to tariff posturing and negative chatter on the state of the regional economy.

If consumption is the litmus test for the health of the economy, things are quite sanguine as reflected by Team Houston’s container performance. This category continues to outperform its past – leaving successive volume records in the dust. Its current 9.4% lead over 2018 was further solidified by the most recent 2.4% monthly increase. What is more telling is the fact that, at present, 12% more containers have surged into the port over the last year. In fact, over the course of the last month the container count has jumped 20%. It is of interest that on a year-to-date basis the spread between full exports (15% increase) and full imports (9% increase) is 6% underscoring the port’s dominance in the export arena.

In short, all of Team Houston’s categories, with the exception of containers, are being out-paced by last year’s team. Granted, the race is far from over since two more full legs of the race remain. The word amongst the odds-makers is that Team Houston’s 3rd leg will catch 2018’s runner and provide the anchor man with a slight advantage. Assuming this is accurate, 2018 won’t have a chance against 2019 since it is rumored that this year’s anchor man is fleet of foot. If that is the case, the only hope 2018 will have is a dropped baton by either of the next two quarters.

  • Date July 9, 2019
  • Tags 2019 June