Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Texas Port Watch: A Year in Review

In 2010 nearly 15,000 ships called on Texas ports – an increase of 11.4% over 2009. 68% of those vessels steamed into Galveston Bay bound for the ports of Galveston, Texas City or Houston. The port of Houston received the lion’s share of those vessels accounting for 47% of the State’s entire volume of deep water arrivals. All told, 2010 was a welcome respite from the doldrums of 2009.

The port of Galveston saw the most impressive gains of the year with a 52% increase and ended the year with a 13% increase over the month of November. Energy appeared to be a dominant feature in the rebound as the energy-centric ports of Texas City and Sabine registered nearly identical annual increases of 22%. Albeit Texas City posted identical month-to-month numbers while Sabine saw 13% more vessel arrivals in December as compared to November.

The Port of Houston experienced a modest gain of 2% over November’s vessel arrival count and finished the year with an annual gain of nearly 8%. There were some interesting month-to-month figures as the year came to end. Specifically, the private docks which comprise the vast majority of the vessel arrival numbers – approximately 70% - were down 1% for the month. Conversely, the public dock vessel numbers were up 11% with general cargo leading the pack. In fact, this category was up 20% in December for the entire port.

Another December trend was that the majority of the storage facilities along the Houston Ship Channel were down – a not unusual event given end-of-year-tax considerations associated with bulk tank farm inventories. Nonetheless, for the year, most of the terminals that handle crude and chemicals saw ship arrival gains in the range of 9 to nearly 30%. This should not come as a surprise as December’s tank vessel arrivals was just 2 shy of August’s high of 317 – a 3.5% increase from November.

Judging by preliminary reports for January vessel movements, it is likely the upward trend will continue into the Spring as crude prices remain strong and natural gas prices continue to firm. Hopefully, trade activity for Texas ports will reflect a modest return to those heady trade days prior to the onset of the Great Recession.

-Tom Marian, Buffalo Marine Service