Port Watch – Just Keep the Goat Away

As misty-eyed Cubs’ fans yearn for the end of a curse in the form of a cantankerous bar owner’s ramblings about insults to his pet goat Murphy, it would certainly be refreshing to cast off the trade doldrums during the final quarter of 2016. Unfortunately, that prospect looks less likely when the September arrivals are tallied for the State. With the home stretch in sight, not a single major port is registering positive year-to-date numbers and only one port saw a positive month-to-month percentage climb during the final full month of the baseball season.

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Galveston’s double digit arrival gains for the month were most impressive given that September was its best month for the year – arrival wise. That’s where the good news ends since it still occupies last place in a year-to-date column compared to all of the other Texas ports with a 17% decline. A stone’s throw away, the Port of Freeport is one of two ports that have maintained positive territory for the year despite its most recent 3% monthly drop. Hopefully, it can remain ahead of last year’s pace so that it does not lose too much more ground against its current year-to-date 3.5% gain. After three months of consecutive gains, the port of Corpus Christi was bound to post a monthly loss. This month it was to the tune of 10% – a rather sizeable drop which pulled down it year-to-date arrival percentages to ­-13%. At the end of the ditch, Brownville lost its year-over-year positive percentage in the wake of a 17% fall. Albeit, 2016 is only a tad behind 2015 at -0.4%.
A few months ago, undergirded by the robust export of LPG, it appeared that the Port of Sabine’s 2016 arrival count would exceed that of 2015. Yet, after 4 monthly arrival declines in a row, that possibility looks rather remote. The port has now edged further down to 2% fewer arrivals for the year and one less arrival during the most recent month. Texas City’s prospects of topping 2015’s arrivals were less than that of Sabine as its year-to-date count lags by over 4% after factoring in a 2% monthly wane; however, September was its second-best month of the year indicating more foreign crude is flowing into the port.
The Port of Houston is in dire need of a few more 700-plus arrival months if it has any hope of exceeding its 2015 arrival count. Houston’s most recent monthly statistics fell short two months in a row with a 1.7% drop in arrivals. That pulls the port a bit further “south” from last year’s arrival count which now stands at -2.3%. A few of the vessel categories that called upon the port were tepidly positive. Chemical tankers posted an arrival-high for the year with a 3% uptick but are still off 6% for the year. Tankers were also up 3% for the month but – unlike its chemical cousin – remain in positive territory by 4% year-to-date. Of course, the negatives exceeded the positive with one of the nadir leaders being bulkers which saw a 21% monthly plummet. Conversely, general cargo arrivals held their own with no change over the last month. Nonetheless, both categories are well below last year’s performance by 9% and 17% respec2016-sept-ghpb-vessel-movement-houstontively. Container vessels stumbled 13% for the month and remain 7% behind last year’s arrival count. Container-wise, the port is even with last year but did see 1% more containers cross its dock compared to the prior month. That said, loaded containers on the export side of the ledger are down 4% for the year and flat on the import side of the ledger. Car carriers were also down by 2 arrivals in the last month but the total vehicle count has been very solid this year. LPG vessel arrivals have been enjoying a very solid year with a 6% improvement over 2015’s count but it too was down 8% for the month. Interestingly, the category that outshined all was oceangoing tows which experienced its best month of the year with a 48% climb. These bluewater tows are up 11% for the year. Unhappily, the brownwater tow movements are not enjoying this level of activity after its 4th consecutive count loss. September is now the weakest month of the year for this category of vessel which translates into a 5% monthly stumble and -1% year-to-date change.
Three quarters are now behind us and nothing short of a last quarter surge will allow 2016 to outperform 2015. Perhaps it could be worse. Let’s say, one loss away from losing the world series to a team that has a better rested bull pen and who has the home team advantage for the remainder of the series. After all, it is possible that the world-wide economic engine will shift out of neutral. It could also be possible that a very contentious presidential election will end with a sigh of relief, a gracious loser, and a victor not embroiled in investigations. While all of those hypothetes are rather unlikely, it would certainly benefit Texas maritime trade if the curse of Murphy remains well north of Interstate 10 and torments all those fans in Chicago.

  • Date November 17, 2016
  • Tags November 2016