Port Watch – The Slide Continues

By Tom Marian - Buffalo Marine

A three month slide never bodes well in the maritime commercial world. This is particularly true when the solid gains from the first half of the year become further imperiled by a softening trade picture. In fact, there are indications that the majority of Texas’ ports will see fewer vessel arrivals in 2015 than in the previous year. This is a bit disconcerting given that the typical September through October trade bounce never materialized following the April through May trade peak. In some instances the languishing arrival numbers are being driven by the marked downturn in drilling activity in the Texas shale gas fields while, in others, there is ever-growing caution with respect to large-scale projects that are propelled by an expanding economy. Whatever the reason, overall arrival activity fell 7% in October but clung to a 1.8% year-to-date gain.

Ironically, the Texas port that retains the year-to-date lead – percentage-wise – experienced the most dramatic monthly plunge. Brownsville’s arrivals fell over 42% but the Chess Capitol of Texas is well above its 2014 arrivals. Specifically, to the tune of 24%. Not surprisingly, its neighbor to the north – the Port of Corpus Christi – was also off by 5% over the last month. This most recent decline has nearly taken the wind out of the port’s 2015 numbers given that Corpus Christi is running a mere 0.4% above last year’s vessel arrival tally. The Port of Freeport may have had one of the better monthly performances, given its monthly arrivals only dropped off by 3%. Unfortunately, it has the dubious honor of possessing the largest year-to-date percentage drop at 10%.

The one bright spot for the month was located just west of the Louisiana-Texas border in the Port of Sabine. This port had a pronounced monthly gain of 8.5%. Sabine’s positive numbers as of late were tied to exports of LPG and the shipment of crude condensate to Canada. Currently, Sabine is outpacing 2014s arrival totals by 8% and looks to improve upon that as the year closes. Galveston is another port that still enjoys a healthier vessel call environment in 2015, despite its lowest monthly arrival count for the year reflecting an 8% wane. Fortunately, the bulk of Galveston’s vessel activity is centered around the public wharves which were off by less than 2% in October while the rest of the port complex averaged an 8% drop. Texas City also experienced a monthly nadir. Worse yet, it has not seen an increase in vessel arrivals since May. All told, the port is down over 8% for the month and 5% below 2014’s arrival figures.

How goeth Houston? The state’s super port experienced the second-largest percentage loss with a double-digit downer of 11%. It, too, posted its lowest monthly numbers for the year; thereby creeping closer to 2014’s performance with a paltry 1.8% improvement over that particular year’s total vessel count. In fact, the monthly losses were so pronounced that there was not a single category that finished in the black with the exception of a 1% gain for chemical tankers – a category that outpaces last year’s movements by nearly 20%. Other than that, there were several vessel types that were in the negatives for the month and the year. Bulk carriers widened its year-to-date fall to almost 14%, with a 16% monthly plunge during a month that was well below all previous months for the year. Tankers followed suit hitting a bottom of 196 arrivals for the month which, in turn, translated into a steep decline of 21% pulling the category into the red for the year. General cargo arrivals nearly matched the prior month’s account. Yet, this particular vessel type lags 9% below its prior year numbers. Car carriers were off by one for the month – essentially mirroring its 2014 arrival data. LPG movements did not see a nadir in October, but its October count was 13% below that of September. The good news is that it remains 2015’s darling with a 24% year-to-date rise.

Not even those thousands of barges brimming with petrochemical products could offer a silver lining as tows that crossed through the Houston Ship Channel also posted lows for the year. Granted, this should come as no surprise given the fact that oceangoing tows that called on the Port of Houston were down 14% over the month and 4% on an annualized basis. All in all, things were not rosy as Halloween heralded the end of a tepid month on the maritime trade front. It was as if the final year of the month was upon Texas ports, and the early winter weather replete with fog, tempestuous seas beyond the entrance jetties, and the post-holiday season buying binge hangover had all conspired to slow the pace of shipping over the course of October. Unfortunately, those realities still loom, and as the price of a barrel of oil slides, so do things off the coast of the Lone Star State.

2015 OCT GHPB Vessel Movement Database Houston

barging ahead ad2015 OCT GHPB Vessel Movement Database Texas Ports


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  • Date November 23, 2015
  • Tags December 2015