Port Watch – The Triple Digit Trio Thrives – Others Dive

April was nearly as busy as March for Texas ports with a slight dip of less than one half of one percent. That slight arrival drag was not enough to pull the arrival count for the first four months of the year below that same timeframe for 2016. Granted, the bulk of the gains were attributable to the trio of triple-digit ports which all posted modest increases for the month and remain modestly ahead of last year’s arrival pace. One wonders, in light of that, why the overall numbers were down if the three busiest ports posted gains? The answer lies in the fact that all but one of the remaining five ports were in the red.


Freeport experienced the biggest monthly tumble with a 25% plunge. Yet, this change was more optics than anything since the previous month was a record breaker. That is borne out by the fact that Freeport continues to maintain the largest percentage gain over its sister ports on a year-to-date basis. Brownsville, on the other hand, saw its lowest monthly arrival number in nearly 2 years; registering a 10% monthly decline. To date, the port is over 17% below last year’s cumulative arrival numbers. Half way across the state, Galveston also continues to struggle. The port has not recorded a monthly positive change since last September. Its most recent monthly loss was 3%. Worse yet, after 2016’s 13% setback, 2017 is currently running 6% below that. The final member of the April-was-not-positive club is Texas City. It too, saw one of its lowest arrival numbers since mid-2015 with its 3rd consecutive monthly decline. Not surprisingly, the latest fall of 5.6% pulled its year to date percentage down to over 4% vis-à-vis 2016. On a positive note, the port continues to export prodigious amounts of distillates for the European and South American market.
The smallest of the triple-digit trio – Corpus Christi – had a respectable month. Its monthly arrival count has not varied by more than 4% since the beginning of the year. Those consistent numbers have yielded a year-to-date climb of 6% following its most recent monthly rise of nearly 2%. The port’s recent expansion on the petrochemical front has played a significant role in its current run of positive numbers. Sabine, on the other hand, still lags behind its 2016 pace which, was more than 7% off of 2015’s arrival throughput. Thus, despite a 1% uptick in the monthly arrival numbers, Sabine is trailing 2016, year-to-date wise, by 4%. Sabine’s biggest adjustment has been the flow of crude into its infrastructure via pipeline rather than Suez Max tankers. On a positive note, LNG exports are steadily gaining ground and the export of distillates is partially offsetting the slight fall in imports.
The nation’s largest export port, Houston, fared better than both Sabine and Corpus Christi with 2% more vessel arrivals over the past month. Tankers, in particular, enjoyed a robust arrival count that was 9% higher than the previous month. Unfortunately, this category is well off last year’s pace – 9% to be more precise. Chemical tankers did nearly as well as their tanker brethren as reflected in a 8% surge. The biggest difference between the two categories is that chemical tankers are up 19% for the year. This appears to be the trend going forward well into the future given the expansion of chemical export facilities along the Houston Ship Channel. LPG is also running ahead of its 2016 numbers. The 9% year-to-date gain is even more impressive when one considers that there was not any monthly gain for this category of vessel. Another bright spot for the month was highlighted by the 9% monthly climb for general cargo vessels. That is where the shine ended since 2017’s numbers are 20% bleaker than 2016’s. Worse yet, 2016 ended 16% below 2015’s general cargo arrival count. Bulk vessels got hammered in April as 23% fewer arrivals transited the Houston Ship Channel; however, the arrivals for the first four months of 2017 exceed 2016 by 16%.


On the container front, imports fared much better than exports; by nearly a third since the beginning of the year. While the same number of container vessels called upon the Port’s container terminals in both April and March, 9% fewer containers crossed those docks in the same timeframe. To date, 2% more vessels have delivered or loaded 12% more containers. The same can be said for the car carriers since both the vessel count and total vehicles moved are flat to slightly positive. It appears that the demand for new cars may be tightening as lenders are more parsimonious in the car loan arena. Ro/Ro activity at Port Houston’s City Docks was on a tear for the first three months of the year but April’s single Ro/Ro vessel arrival was more indicative of last year’s lull. Oceangoing tows were also off by 4% for the month. Yet, 2017’s torrid pace remains intact given that 62% more of these barges have called upon the Port compared to last year. The inland towing sector was similarly situated with 10% fewer transits through the region during the last month. This category is still 9% ahead of last year.
Indeed, the big three ports, held their own over the last month despite the large number of monthly percentage drops at the smaller ports. Clearly, the petrochemical export machine is being buoyed by overseas demand for cheap manufacturing commodities which, in turn, accommodates a growing population’s penchant for consumables. Indeed, the ever-thickening traffic that congests new and expanded roadways leading to and from more and more subdivisions undergirds much of that demand for imports. Fortunately, the region – dominated by the larger population centers – has plenty of exports to pay for all of that stuff .

  • Date June 5, 2017
  • Tags June 2017