Waterborne Foreign Trade Statistics: 2016

By Christine Schlenker, GHPB

U.S. Trade Overview
U.S. total trade ended 2016 slightly ahead of 2015 by total waterborne foreign trade by tonnage with a 1.7% improvement from 1.26 billion metric tons to 1.28 billion metric tons. Total tonnage nearly recovered to its 2014 levels, falling only about 1 million metric tons short. One of the key drivers of the tonnage increase was a 9.2% increase in crude oil imports, which equates to about 20 million metric tons. Exports of soybeans, corn, and wheat increased by double-digit percentage points by tonnage. Exports of petroleum gases increased by 37.3% by tonnage. These were offset by declines in imports of salt, fertilizers, coal, and aluminum ore.

Total U.S. trade by value continued to be impacted by low oil prices, ending 5.5% down, a decline from $1.56 trillion total waterborne foreign trade in 2015 to $1.47 trillion in 2016. However, this decline was less than what was experienced between 2014 and 2015, which was a nearly 10.8% decline. Despite the increase in crude import tonnage, the value of crude imports declined nearly 17%, and refined oils fell just under 20%. Crude oil and refined oils are the second and third largest imports by value, respectively. Passenger vehicles, the top import by value for the U.S., increased by value by 1%. On the export side, the value of refined oils fell as expected. However, this was mitigated by exports of petroleum gases, up by 33.9% in value, and soybeans and corn, which both increased by about 21.9%.

Houston Exports

Houston’s exports increased by 4.0% by tonnage and decreased by 17.5% by value between 2015 and 2016. Export tonnage of petroleum gases, chemicals, and plastics all increased by tonnage, although the individual commodity’s value (and therefore price per ton) varied up and down from 2015. Parts for heavy machinery, a longstanding member of Houston’s top ten exports, declined by nearly 45% by tonnage, although this was not enough to bump it out of the list.

Houston Imports

Overall, Houston imports by tonnage were nearly flat compared to 2015, falling only 0.2%, though the decline by value was 16.6%. Crude oil imports made a resurgence in 2016, up over 12% compared to 2015 by tonnage. Pipes and parts for pipes all declined, in some instances by 50% of 2015’s imports. Nearly all of the furniture imports, which is a new addition to Houston’s top ten imports, is being moved via containers.

Texas Ports
Four Texas ports ended 2016 in the top 20 U.S. ports by total trade tonnage: Houston, Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, and Texas City. By value, only Houston and Corpus Christi made it into the top 20, with Houston ranked third and Corpus Christi at twentieth.

Unsurprisingly, all Texas ports experienced declines in total waterborne foreign trade by value, and for most ports, this is largely attributed to the decline in oil prices. However, Port Lavaca, whose foreign trade is not driven by oil like most of Texas, saw the most profound drop both by value and by tonnage. Port Lavaca’s aluminum ores imports, which were its second largest import in 2015, were only 5% of what they were in 2015 by tonnage and value.

Trade Partners
Houston ended 2016 with a trade surplus, as is expected from the U.S.’s top export port, although imports and the value of exports declined enough that the trade surplus decreased compared to 2015. Houston’s top foreign trading partner by total trade continued to be Mexico in 2016 at $10.7 billion, although China was close behind at $10.4 billion. Houston’s trade balance with Mexico took a large swing from a $83 million deficit at the end of 2015, to over $1.1 billion in 2016, and it was almost entirely driven by decreases in imports. Some of the key commodities contributing included crude oil, iron and steel pipes, semi-finished products and beer. Offsetting these declines were increased imports of refined oil.

  • Date May 9, 2017
  • Tags May 2017