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Cargo volumes a mixed bag for Gulf Coast ports in September

Loaded import containers were down 12% year over year at 156,161 twenty-foot equivalent units in September at Port Houston.

Posted on October 25, 2023

Container flow in September sagged in Houston, while the global demand for crude oil continued to fuel exports through Corpus Christi, Texas. The Port of New Orleans reported plastic resins, chemicals and coffee as its top containerized cargo during the month.

Port Houston’s monthly container flows slip in September

Port Houston handled 325,588 twenty-foot equivalent units in September, a year-over-year (y/y) decrease of 8% compared to the same period last year.

Roger Guenther, executive director at Port Houston, said cargo traffic at the port has remained steady in 2023 but has been lower than the record results of 2022.

“Our overall tonnage in September across all facilities is down versus 2022, which to remind everyone 2022 was a record year,” Guenther said during the port’s monthly commission meeting Tuesday. “Loaded boxes are still coming through our port and we expect it to continue that way. It’s kind of the decline of the empty containers being exported to Asia that is driving the [monthly] totals down a little bit.”

Loaded imports were down 12% y/y at 156,161 TEUs, while loaded exports were up 21% y/y in September at 124,739 TEUs.

Empty import containers increased 63% y/y in September at 16,208 TEUs, while empty export containers decreased 55% y/y to 28,480 TEUs.

Total revenue tonnage was down 16% y/y at 4.9 million tons.

Imports of steel products were down 20% y/y in September at 349,509 tons. General cargo imports were down 37% y/y at 622,911 tons. Container imports decreased 10% y/y to 1.47 million tons.

Exports of steel products were down 94% y/y to 2,992 tons, while general exports decreased 38% y/y to 876,059 tons. Container exports increased 15% to 1.6 million tons.

Chief Port Operations Officer Jeff Davis said on Sept. 26 the port handled 15,491 gate transactions at its Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals, its busiest day of the month.

“As Roger mentioned, we’re just not seeing those export empties [containers] being returned as imports like we did last year, but we continue to have a solid year,” Davis said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Port Houston recorded 688 ship calls in September, a 2% y/y increase, while barge calls totaled 287, a 37% y/y decline.

Crude oil exports continue to bolster Port of Corpus Christi

The Port of Corpus Christi posted a 10% y/y increase in total shipments during September, handling 17.1 million tons compared to 15.6 million tons in 2022.

Exports of crude oil totaled 10.2 million tons in September, a 19% y/y increase compared to the same year-ago period.

Petroleum shipments decreased 2% y/y in September to 4.9 million tons, with exports totaling 3.9 million tons during the month.

Dry bulk cargo decreased 32% y/y to 519,297 tons, while chemical cargo volumes totaled 287,829 tons in September, a 38% y/y increase from 2022.

Shipments of bulk grain increased 1,164% y/y in September to 189,620 tons, while breakbulk shipments increased 480% y/y to 28,701 tons.

Liquid bulk shipments increased 13% y/y to 70,756 tons.

The Port of Corpus Christi had 456 barge calls in September, a 10% y/y decline. Ship calls during September totaled 209, a 12% y/y increase compared to 2022.

For the first time in its history, the port moved more than 50 million tons of goods through the Corpus Christi Ship Channel during a quarter, according to a news release.

Port officials said 52 million tons of freight moved through the ship channel during the third quarter, a 7.7% y/y increase compared to the same period a year ago.

Port of Corpus Christi customers moved 151.3 million tons through the gateway during the first nine months of 2023, a 9.4% increase from the same period in 2022. The leading commodities from January through September were crude oil, refined products and liquified natural gas.

Port of New Orleans handles 41,249 TEUs in September

The Port of New Orleans’ top containerized cargo in September were exports of plastic resins and chemicals and imports of coffee and organic chemicals.

The top breakbulk cargo commodities for the month were steel and rubber imports.

“Besides the regular types of cargo, we saw some lumber imports (breakbulk) from Europe,” port spokeswoman Kimberly Curth told FreightWaves.

Breakbulk tons totaled 59,152 in September, while container volume totaled 41,249 TEUs.

The port did not provide y/y monthly data, but container traffic increased 12% compared to August and is up 10.6% year to date; breakbulk cargo fell 50% compared to August.

“There were 30 vessel calls in September, and vessel calls are up 36% compared to this time last year,” Curth said.

The port handled 7,927 Class I rail car switches in September, an 8% decline from August. The port handles switching operations for six Class I railroads: BNSF, CN, CSX, CPKC, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.


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