The Port of Savannah saw container volumes drop from year-earlier levels as the outlook for international trade remains weak. But the fourth largest U.S. port is still seeing some of the best year-to-date growth for imports.
The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) said June 2019 container volumes were 361,906 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), a 2.4 percent drop from the year earlier.
Export volumes led the drop, falling 4.4 percent from June 2018 to 119,295 TEU. Import volumes were also weaker falling 3.8 percent to 119,295 TEU. As with other ports, empties handling took a larger share of the volume, growing 5 percent.
The volume numbers align with the economic outlook for the U.S. Southeast. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta said reports from transportation firms were “mixed” during June. Shippers and forwarders said the usual litany of concerns over slowing economic activity, trade wars, and the potential for Britain’s hard exit from the European Union are dampening overall trade volumes.
Southeast ports are seeing “continued growth in container volumes, though at a slightly lower pace,” the Fed said in its monthly Beige Book. “Freight forwarders saw strong growth in volume and revenue driven by e-commerce shipments. However, some ocean carriers noted that demand was down from year-ago levels and lower than 2019 expectations.”
But Savannah is still up for the year in terms of imports. Total 2019 volumes through June are up 6 percent to 2.25 million TEU. Other U.S. East Coast ports are seeing roughly similar growth with the ports of Virginia and South Carolina seeing year-to-date volumes up 6 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. .
Among East Coast ports, Savannah saw the best year-to-date growth in import volumes, which were up 8.5 percent to just over one million TEU through June. Only Houston has seen stronger growth with imports there up 8.9 percent through June.
Intermodal rail is a big part of those import volumes. GPA said container rail lifts were 506,707 for the fiscal year ending in June, up 16.6 percent from a year earlier. Rail accounts for 20 percent of Savannah’s container throughput.
GPA said the Mason Mega Rail project is nearly 40 percent complete. By 2021, Mason Mega will be able to handle 1 million containers annually. GPA said Mason Mega will cut transit times to the Midwest by 24 hours.
GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said, “rail cargo is expanding at twice the rate of our overall container trade, reducing congestion on our highways and increasing Georgia’s reach to a mid-American arc of cities, including Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio.”
Other projects include a $12.4 million expansion of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal, adding four new container rows that will add 400,000 TEU in annual capacity.
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