AAPA Seaports Advisory

Port Traffic Trends: Global Port Tracker, Houston, Long Beach, Seaway, Virginia

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Global Port Tracker: Retailers in ‘Final Balancing Act’ of Holiday Merchandise Supply and Demand

Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to be essentially unchanged from last year this month as stores bring in the last round of merchandise for the holiday season, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report released December 8 by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.

Global Port Tracker’s conclusions are based on its survey and analysis of inbound container traffic flows at the ports of Charleston, Hampton Roads, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Oakland, Port Everglades, Savannah and Seattle/Tacoma.

"The holiday season is well under way and merchants are doing the final balancing act of matching supply to demand," said Jonathan Gold, the NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy. "Retailers went into the season with strong inventories that ensured consumers would have a good depth and breadth of selection, and that should hold true for the remainder of the season."

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.56 million TEUs in October, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 4.1 percent from the preceding month and 0.1 percent less than October 2014.

Those numbers would bring 2015 to a total of 18.3 million TEUs, up 5.5 percent from last year.

Subsequent month forecasts: January 2016   1.46 million TEUs ( 17.9 percent); February 2016 - 1.4 million TEUs ( 16.9 percent); March - 1.35 million TEUs (-22.4 percent); April - 1.51 million TEUs (-0.3 percent).

Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said retailers are still working off excess inventory built up after the West Coast port situation and sustained by warm weather that has diminished the demand for winter clothing, but that consumers are buying.

"U.S. retail sales increased in October by the most in three months and consumer sentiment rose as well, but the inventory-to-sales ratio remained stubbornly high at levels not seen since the Great Recession in 2009," Mr. Hackett said. "Personal savings increased, but on the flip side so did the use of credit cards."

Houston: 2 Million TEUs Set Port Record

The Port of Houston Authority has surpassed 2 million TEUs for the first time ever, setting a container throughput record for U.S. Gulf Coast and putting itself among the handful of North American ports to clear the 2 million-TEU hurdle. 

The unprecedented performance so far in 2015 beats the previous record of 1.96 million TEUs set for all of last year. The milestone was highlighted during a brief ceremony at the Port Authority’s Bayport Container Terminal on December 10.

Port Authority Executive Director Roger Guenther said, "Having the two millionth TEU crossing our docks today illustrates the steadfast guidance of the Port Authority’s leadership through the Port Commission and diligence of our staff to deliver exemplary service to our customers and validates that the port is ready for the increased cargo...and bigger things to come."

Projections indicate continued strong growth in containers moving across port authority docks in coming years.  During the next decade, the port authority will invest about $700 million modernizing the Barbours Cut Container Terminal to increase efficiency, facilitate larger vessels and double the container handling capacity. Four new Super Post-Panamax ship-to-shore wharf cranes that were delivered this year are now in operation.

At the newer Bayport terminal, a state-of-the-art truck entry gate has streamlined truck processing, and a user-friendly mobile app for truck drivers has increased efficiency. Recently, the port authority processed a record 4,300 trucks in one day at Bayport, which opened in 2007 and is being built out according to its master plan.

Long Beach: Fifth Straight Month of Box Traffic Gains

Strong container volume continued at the Port of Long Beach in November with 6.6 percent growth from a year ago to 619,699 TEUs. It was the port’s fifth straight month of increases and enough cargo to make the month the second-busiest November in the port’s 104-year history.

In detail, the November data show year-on-year gains of 4.3 percent by inbound loads and 19.5 empties and a 4 percent drop in outbound loads. The year-to-date total of nearly 6.6 million TEUs was up 5.5 percent from 6.3 million TEUs for January-November 2014. Click here for detail.

According to the port, upcoming post-holiday sales planned by retailers across the country drove the strong cargo numbers. Exports were adversely impacted by the strong U.S. dollar.

"Thanks to our industry partners, we have had consistent gains throughout 2015 and are on track to move more than 7 million TEUs this year," said Port of Long Beach CEO Jon Slangerup. "Retailers have reported a modest but healthy holiday season, which keeps us busy and the economy growing."

November Cargoes Reflect Diversity of Seaway Shipments
"Agricultural commodities along with dry bulk, general cargo and containerized goods continued to enhance cargo tonnage on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System during the month of November," said Betty Sutton, administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. "With just under a month remaining in the 2015 navigation season, we anticipate vessel activity in the Seaway System to be robust right up to closing." 
The general cargo dock operated by Midwest Terminals had a good month at the Port of Toledo, handling vessel loads of aluminum, steel, project cargo, coal, pig iron, pet coke, and salt.  "The ability to handle a diverse array of cargo at this large facility with new material handling equipment is really helping move the economy of Northwest Ohio forward," said Joe Cappel, vice president of business development at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority

"Although our coal and iron ore tonnage is below normal for this time of year, shipments of other bulk materials, project cargo, grain, and aluminum have been strong. In Toledo, we can handle just about anything that can be loaded onto a ship."

At the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, exports through the Seaway exceeded imports for the first time in many months. "We saw increased exports of grain and other bulk products moving to Québec in recent shipments," said Port Director Rick Heimann. "Québec is a key trading partner for us because that region serves as a gateway to the Great Lakes in a similar way that our port serves as a gateway to the U.S. Midwest and the extensive inland waterway system. Grain from Midwestern farms can be shipped on Great Lakes vessels from our port to Québec and loaded onto larger ocean vessels for trans-Atlantic shipments. Developing these types of regional partnerships is vital to realizing the full potential of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System."

The Port of Oswego also had a busy November, receiving shipments of aluminum and potash and exporting its first soybeans. Two McKeil Marine barges arrived from
Sept-Îles, Québec, carrying 16,000 metric tons of aluminum for distribution to the local Novelis Plant, and customers as far away as Kentucky and Texas. M/V Algoway delivered 10,000 metric tons of red premium potash from Thunder Bay, Ontario. The potash was moved by truck to farmers across New York and surrounding states.

"The port saw its first export of 16,000 metric tons of soybeans on the M/V Manitoba to the Port of Sorel, Quebec," said Zelko Kirincich, Executive Director and CEO. "Its final destination is Europe. This first export of soybeans by ship is just the beginning of what is expected to be major grain export and import activity at the Port of Oswego in 2016."

"For the second consecutive year, the Port of Milwaukee will see a high volume of steel coming in through the Seaway," said Port Director Paul Vornholt. "That is one of the ways the port adds value for local manufacturers.  The port is also well positioned to handle oversized items such as the new 96-ton hammer press that recently arrived through the Seaway for a local forged product manufacturer."

Cargo transiting the St. Lawrence Seaway from April 2 to November 30 totaled 32 million metric tons, down 10.5 percent compared to the same period in 2014.  November increases were posted by potash ( 94 percent), stone ( 21 percent), gypsum ( 45 percent) and U.S. grain exports ( 11 percent). Decliners were general cargo (-16 percent), iron ore (-7 percent), coal (-38 percent) and liquid bulk (-11 percent).

Virginia: TEU Count Tops 200,000 for Ninth Consecutive Month

Despite a November dip, The Port of Virginia is expecting another record container traffic year in 2015.

The November data show container throughput at the port authority’s Hampton Roads terminals totaling of 203,472 TEUs, a drop of 2.5 percent from the year before, but nevertheless that ninth consecutive month the port’s TEU count topped 200,000. It also brought the year-to-date total to 2,352,231 TEUs, an increase of 7.6 percent, leaving the port on course for another record year.

Other November data show declines in truck volume (-35 percent) and breakbulk tonnage (-7.5 percent), no change in rail moves, and a 45-percent jump in auto shipments. Click here for detail.

"Our performance in November was not a surprise as this is a traditional time of year for volume to wane as peak season comes to an end," said John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. "Peak season tapered early and was a bit muted across the industry. Our strategy of continued reinvestment to improve our delivery of service in all phases of the operation remains our primary focus as we look out to both the short- and long-terms."

The Port of Richmond, the Port of Virginia’s James River barge terminal, had its most productive November on record, with container volume up 9.6 percent to 1,946 TEUs, an increase of 9.6 compared to November 2015.  A new mobile harbor crane is set to arrive at Richmond toward the end of December.

"This new piece of equipment is the first step of our long-term investment strategy at the Port of Richmond," Mr. Reinhart said. "Fine-tuning the operation there and investing in cargo conveyance equipment will boost productivity and help that terminal serve as a catalyst for economic development in and around the Commerce Road corridor."


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