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Port Houston container terminal aerial

Photo courtesy Port Houston

Port Houston a Big Winner from West to East Cargo Shift

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2679
September 22, 2022

The Port of Houston has smashed its record for the highest number of containers handled in a single month as some U.S. imports have shifted from West to Gulf and East Coast ports.

Port Houston reports that total container volume in August came in at 382,842 TEUs, which is 20% more than the same month last year and a whopping 14%, or 47,476 TEUs, over Houston’s previous all-time record month set in May 2022.

August’s loaded container imports reached 180,132 TEUs, for 13% increase compared to last. In total, Port Houston has handled 2,608,405 TEUs year-to-date, marking for a 17% increase over last year’s record numbers.

“Port Houston is committed to meeting the challenge of historic cargo demand and providing a cost- efficient and vital gateway for America’s maritime cargo,” said Roger Guenther, Executive Director at Port Houston. “We are investing in people and infrastructure to meet our customers’ needs. We are expediting the development of container yard space and wharves, and are adding equipment like ship- to-shore cranes and rubber-tired gantry cranes to maintain efficiency as we expand terminal capacity.”

U.S. Gulf and East Coast ports have been picking up volumes as importers have diverted cargo away from the U.S. West Coast to avoid the possibility of worsening congestion and as a hedge against a breakdown of labor negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and port employers—although at this point it seems unlikely that either scenario is unlikely. The shifting cargo volumes have led to huge gains for ports such as New York/New Jersey, Savannah and Houston, while West Coast ports like the Long Beach and Los Angeles are starting to see year-over-year monthly declines, albeit year-to-date cargo throughput is still at or near last year’s all-time records.

The growth seen at Port Houston is outpacing that of other major U.S. container ports. According to the National Retail Federation’s Global Port Tracker Report, Houston’s import volumes were up a nation-leading 21.4% year-to-date through July. This compares to gains of 10.7% in New York/New Jersey, 14.1% in Charleston, 5% in Savannah, while Los Angeles/Long Beach have only seen volumes increase 1.1% over the same period. Nationwide, U.S. imports were up 4.1% through July, the NRF’s report showed.

Similar to Houston, Savannah also reported its busiest month ever in August with total throughput up more than 18% yoy. Meanwhile, imports last month through Long Beach fell 5.6% yoy, while next door Los Angeles saw imports fall by a whopping 17% yoy.

Unfortunately, the unprecedented influx of cargo does not come without its challenges. Import dwell times at Port Houston’s Bayport and Barbours Cut terminals have doubled to now six days on average, compared to two or three in the past. Backups are also up in NY/NJ and Savannah.

To help combat the congestion issue, Port Houston has begun offering Saturday gate hours so importers can retrieve their containers an extra day per week. In addition, Port officials are exploring an Excessive Dwell Fee for containers that stay at the terminal beyond free grace period.

“We are asking our customers to take advantage of these additional Saturday hours of service, pull your containers quickly, and consider adapting procedures to work with us toward the common end goal of efficiency throughout the supply chain,” said Guenther.

Total tonnage at Port Houston’s facilities is up 24% for the year through August. Steel imports have been particularly strong this year and are up 83% year to date through August. Auto import tonnage was up 50% for the month of August but remain down 9% for the year compared to last year.

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