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Port Watch – A View From the Trenches

In the wake of the ever-growing oil spill in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, it will be interesting to see how vessel movements for the month of May will compare against April. There are already indications that vessels have been diverted from New Orleans and points east to Houston to take on supplies. Hence, there was an initial bump in bunker demand over the first weekend of May.

But let’s not focus on what may be and look at what was – April 2010. On the ship count side things were for the most part flat compared to the previous month. The exceptions were Freeport which saw a robust jump of 29%; Galveston which dropped a marked 18%; and Corpus Christi which fell off by 13.6%. Despite that rather lackluster performance on a month-to-month basis, most terminals in the region are seeing more cargo offloaded from the same number of ships.

Some of that is borne out by the increased number of Pilot “shifts” throughout the Port of Houston. The first four months of 2010 was 17.5% higher than the comparable period for 2009. Anecdotally, most terminals along the Houston Ship Channel are experiencing a strong uptick in tonnage figures for the back half of April. The vessel arrival data is certainly impressive compared against last year’s April where most Texas ports have experienced a much higher vessel count.

This stands to reason given that last year’s commerce was reeling from the impact of the “Great Recession.” However, the supply chain does not end at the waterfront and while demand on the manufacturing side is on the rise, there are indications that the purchase orders that usually fuel that demand are not as robust. Thus, there are indications that the increased activity is still dominated by inventory replenishment. Perhaps we are even witnessing some stockpiling in anticipation of strong inflationary pressures over the next several quarters.

For the time being, 2010 is a far cry – on the positive side – from 2009 on the vessel count side. Thus far, all Texas ports have registered gains. Galveston lead the pack with a huge 119% increase; Sabine was up by nearly 25%; Texas City up by 20.5%; Corpus Christi climbed 11.6%; Freeport crept up by 3% and Houston tallied a slight 1.7% increase.

by Tom Marian – Buffalo Marine Service

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