Ports container volume rises, but earnings fall short
Exports and new shipping routes helped grow cargo volume for the State Ports Authority in 2012, but the agency was below revenue expectations for the first half of its current fiscal year.
For the calendar year, container volume was up 9.6 percent from 2011, with the equivalent of 1.5 million 20-foot-long containers handled at the terminals in Mount Pleasant and North Charleston, the agency said.
Also, non-containerized business shipping made gains last year, officials said at the SPA’s monthly board meeting in Charleston.
The Port of Charleston handled more than 1 million tons of non-containerized or “break-bulk” freight over the past 12 months, almost 26 percent more than 2011. The gain was driven by higher volumes of heavy power-generation equipment and BMW vehicle exports from the Columbus Street Terminal, officials said.
At the smaller Port of Georgetown, break-bulk business was up 17 percent last year, with 532,472 pier tons of goods like steel and bulk cement handled on the city’s waterfront, officials added.
Last year’s growing trade volume was aided by new routes to areas like Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Hamburg Sud, a container shipping line that pulled its only call from the Port of Savannah last year in favor of Charleston to serve those countries.
In the last six months of calendar year 2012, which represents the first half of the SPA’s fiscal year, non-containerized cargo swelled 40 percent from the comparable year-earlier period, and 24 percent higher than expectations.
Container volume, while up nearly 11 percent from the last fiscal year, fell short of projections by 1.5 percent.
Operating revenues for the fiscal year was $68.6 million, more than 6 percent above last year, but almost 6 percent below expectations.
The authority also reported December’s container volume was up 13 percent compared to the same month in 2011, a spike fueled by fears of a potential strike as labor talks went down the wire between the International Longshoremen’s Association and a group representing shipping lines.
Jim Newsome, CEO of the ports authority, cautioned that December’s surge will affect January’s numbers.
“I can assure you it will be less volume than planned,” said Newsome, who predicted “some lumpy comparisons in the coming months.”