Port Watch – Just Enough to be Better

Hopefully, the Thanksgiving leftovers have become a distant memory as the Christmas season unfolds. No doubt, the end-of-year freneticism that seems to collapse the concept of time can be somewhat overwhelming but each day still has 24 hours and every port patiently tallies its harvest of vessel arrivals at the end of the day. Hence, as the month of November closed, it logged just enough of a bounce to all but ensure that 2015 will have seen more vessel arrivals throughout Texas ports than 2014. This was the case, despite one less day during the year’s second-to-last month where the aggregate arrival number was up 4.6% for the month and 2.1% for the year.

The end of a three-month arrival slide was welcomed in every major Texas port as they all posted monthly gains and half of those same ports were double-digit gains to boot. In fact, the ports of Freeport and Port Comfort saw their greatest haul of monthly arrivals for 2015 in November. Unfortunately, in the case of Freeport, the 26% monthly jump could not pull the port out of the red since it still remains 7.6% below 2014’s arrival numbers. A mere stone’s throw from Freeport, the port of Galveston was also the recipient of a double-digit monthly gain – to the tune of nearly 23%. While its November increases were primarily attributable to the onset of the cruise season and additional movement of molten sulphur to Tampa, Galveston is running 8% ahead of last year’s arrival totals.

2015 OCT GHPB Vessel Movement Database.xlsx

It should come as no surprise that the continuing slide of the price of oil has dampened maritime commerce in the ports of Brownsville and Corpus Christi. While these two ports are not recording the torrid marine activity they were posting in the first half of the year, they continue to hold their own due to the previous investments of fracking infrastructure throughout the Permian and Eagle Ford shale regions. Brownsville’s 16% monthly gain is a bit misleading since October was the port’s vessel-arrival nadir. Thus, it was unlikely that the arrival numbers would fall further into the teens; however, Brownsville continues to outpace 2014’s performance by 24%. Corpus Christi, on the other hand, is tenuously holding onto its year-to-date gain by a mere 7 vessels, or 0.3%. The port was up for the month by a single vessel, or 0.5%.

The port of Texas City saw its first monthly arrival increase since last May. Granted, like Brownville, the 8% November rise was in the wake of an arrival nadir. However, unlike the state’s southernmost port, it remains 5% in the red. The port of Sabine – the other petrochemical-centric port – benefited from back-to-back monthly arrival increases with an additional net change of 1.4%. This all but guarantees that Sabine’s 2015 arrivals will eclipse those of 2014. Currently, it is 9% higher on an annualized basis.

Houston, given its sheer numbers, should also outperform 2014 with its 2015 arrival count. Yet, the final gains will be incremental at best. Indeed, November’s paltry 1.4% rise followed the lowest arrival count for 2015. Hence, November’s arrival totals were the second-lowest for the year. From a year-to-date perspective, Houston remains 1.4% above that of 2014. Of note, is the fact that without the onset of the cruise season and solid gains in LPG and tank vessel arrivals, Houston would have seen yet fewer vessels in November than in October. On the non-energy commodity front, the container vessel count equaled that of October but the number of containers is up 6% for the month and 11% for the year. Bulkers saw a 15.5% monthly jump but their year-to-date pace continues to wane by 14%. Similarly, general cargo traffic bounced back by 7% for the month but lags 2014’s arrival count by 8%. Conversely, chemical tankers slogged into their end-of-year mode with a 14% monthly decline; however, 2015 remains in a very favorable light as evidenced by a year-to-date arrival climb of 19%. Finally, as further evidence that global demand for distillates is softening, tank vessel arrivals crept up by 3%. Nevertheless, November’s arrival count was the second lowest for the year and was not enough to pull this category into positive territory as it remains 1.5% off 2014’s figures.

Historically, the month of November is a flat to negative month vis-à-vis the October timeframe in the maritime commerce arena. Yet, this particular November managed to defy that trend mostly due to the three previous months of decreases. No matter, a gain is a gain, and as Father Time’s annual relief hastens, one hopes that the growth in economic activity that has blessed Texas over these last several years will continue unabated. May you have a joyous Christmas season and a bountiful 2016.

2015 OCT GHPB Vessel Movement Database.xlsx


  • Date January 14, 2016
  • Tags January 2016