Gulf Coast ports post mixed results in January

Cargo flow remained constant at ports in Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, but slowed  slightly in New Orleans due to lower breakbulk and container shipments during the month of January.

Port Houston sees small decline in containers but cargo activities still ‘solid’

Port Houston container volume dipped 1% year over year (y/y) in January to 319,990 twenty-foot equivalent units compared to the same month last year.

“Starting off the year, our cargo activities remain solid,” Roger Guenther, Port Houston’s executive director, said during the port’s monthly meeting Tuesday. “Steel imports remain strong. Although we saw a slight dip in January in our container imports, we continue to see increasing resin demand that is driving our export loaded containers.”

Imports of steel were up 17% y/y in January at 514,024 tons. Port Houston also saw a 31% y/y growth in export loaded containers, totaling 113,875 TEUs.

Full import containers were down 6% y/y in January to 149,400 TEUs. 

Total imports, including empty import containers, were up 5% y/y to 2.7 million tons, buoyed by a surge in empty containers repositioned to Houston to support a strong start in export bookings, Guenther said.

“We’re seeing strong movement of export boxes through our terminals. Barbours Cut and Bayport [container terminals] are still busy seeing a steady volume of transactions through our gate on a weekly basis,” Guenther said.

Port Houston owns and operates the Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals, which have been averaging a combined 63,000 gate transactions per week.

During January, ship calls were down 1% y/y to 692 vessels, while barges calling at the port fell 10% to 360.

Guenther said the container imports outlook for Port Houston remains strong in 2023. Port officials cited a new 900,000-square-foot distribution center from retailer Macy’s that is scheduled to open nearby by the end of the year as another source of import containers.

“There’s just a lot of reports out there of significantly reduced volumes in the United States, and quite frankly, we’re just not seeing that so far,” Guenther said. 

Port of New Orleans records declines in containers, breakbulk cargo

The Port of New Orleans reported total TEUs in January of 37,418, a 2.4% decline compared to the same period last year.

Top containerized commodities that passed through the port in January were plastics, chemicals, forest products and coffee.

Breakbulk cargo totaled 133,403 short tons in January, a 51% y/y decline compared to the same month in 2022, when the port recorded massive shipments of plywood.

Steel, rubber and bagged cargo were the top breakbulk cargo commodities during the month.

The port handled 14,094 Class I railcar switches in January, a 28% y/y increase. The port handles switching operations for the six Class I railroads that operate in New Orleans: BNSF Railway, CN, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

Port of Corpus Christi continues with strong crude oil exports 

The Port of Corpus Christi saw a 7% y/y increase in total cargo to 16.4 million tons in January, led by exports of crude oil, petroleum and dry bulk cargo. 

The port handled 9.8 million total tons of crude oil during the month, a 10% increase compared to the same year-ago period. Exports of crude oil for January topped 9 million tons, a 7% increase over last year.

Shipments of petroleum totaled 5.4 million tons during January, a 6% y/y increase. Exports of petroleum were at 4.4 million tons for the month, a 5% y/y increase.

Dry bulk cargo increased 45% y/y to 839,001 tons in January, while liquid bulk shipments increased 382% y/y to 100,772 tons.

Watch: rising retail prices versus falling transportation costs.

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