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Steel, oil and plywood lift Gulf Coast ports’ March cargo volumes

Port Houston sees 83% spike in general cargo; Port of New Orleans recorded 61% increase in breakbulk

Port Houston saw a slight increase in container volume during March, led by increased demand for steel tubular products used in the Texas oil and gas industry. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Gulf Coast ports got a boost in March from imports of steel and plywood, and exports of petroleum and crude oil.

Port Houston sees gains in steel and general cargo

Port Houston saw a slight increase in container volume during March, led by increased demand for steel tubular products used in the Texas oil and gas industry, officials said.

Container volume at Port Houston in March totaled 308,557 twenty-foot equivalent units, a 4% increase over the same period last year.

“Rig count in Texas is up about 61% from where it was last year,” John Moseley, chief commercial officer for Port Houston, said during the port’s monthly meeting Tuesday. “There were 346 rigs operating in Texas as of last week, compared to 211 last year. There is a lot of increased demand for tubular steel goods.” 

Imports of steel increased 72% year-over-year in March to 401,587 tons. Imports of general cargo increased 83% to 840,351 tons.

Bagged goods imports are up 164% year-to-date through March, while auto units are down 34% for the year, officials said.


The demand for empty containers in China also helped increase volumes in March, Jeff Davis, Port Houston’s chief operations officer, said. Instead of sending loaded container exports back to Asia, carriers are sending empty containers.

“Empty containers are up 76%,” Davis said. “[Shippers] tell us that there’s a great value in the fact that they are able to turn that stack of empty containers in Asia into full import containers and send it back to [Port Houston].”

Total empty export containers were up 119% at Port Houston for the first three months of 2022.

Vessel calls for March were down 3% year-over-year to 679 but were up 6% from February. Barges calling Port Houston were up 19% year-over-year to 261 and decreased 29% from February.

Port Houston has been handling about 13,000 daily interchanges combined at its Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals. 

Roger Guenther, Port Houston’s executive director, said the port is on pace for a record year.

For the first three months of 2022, Port Houston handled a total of 903,383 TEUs, an increase of 20% year-to-date over last year’s record year.

“2016 was the first time that we passed 2 million TEUs in a year so that you can tell we’re on a pace that is certainly a record,” Guenther said.

Port NOLA sees breakbulk gains, but container volume declines 

For the second consecutive month, Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) saw increased breakbulk cargo but declining cargo volumes.

The port recorded a 61% year-over-year increase in breakbulk tons in March to 253,057 tons.

“We continue to see big breakbulk volumes in coffee and plywood,” Jessica Ragusa, Port NOLA spokeswoman, told FreightWaves. 

Port NOLA’s container volume declined 24% year-over-year in March to 35,004 TEUs. Port NOLA has been hampered in recent months by a shortage of cargo containers, which has affected the global supply chain. 

The port handled 12,961 Class I railcar switches in March, a 25% year-over-year 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 sees growth in petroleum, crude oil

The Port of Corpus Christi in South Texas moved almost 15.4 million tons of cargo in March, a 22% year-over-year increase from the same month in 2021.

Shipments of petroleum totaled 5.1 million tons during March, a 13% year-over-year increase. Exports of petroleum totaled 4.2 million tons for the month, a 24% increase from the same month last year.

The port also handled 8.7 million tons of crude oil during March, a 28% increase compared to the same year-ago period. Exports of crude oil for the month topped 8.1 million tons, a 29% increase from the same period last year.

The Port of Corpus Christi had 568 ship calls in March, a 7% year-over-year decrease from 2021.

Watch: FreightWaves shipper update for April 27.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]
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