Blog: Ports with sufficient capacity are few and far between

I’m so old I remember when Saturday Night Live was funny.

I also remember that the use of standardized container sizes was accepted and then became the norm in the early 1980s. Back then many of our “container ships” were freedom ships, which were relatively inexpensive. In 1991, three ports – Long Beach, Los Angeles and New York/New Jersey – handled a third of the cargo entering the United States.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that there are almost 3,000 ports in the world, but only 436 of them have a capacity of 1,000 containers.

Once considered impossible, container ships with a capacity of 10,000 to 15,000 containers are now commonplace. Vessels with a capacity of 20,000 are now the next efficiency target for the top 10 carriers, which now control 85% of global trade. Due to some recent mergers, the consolidation might be more than that.

But the problem is clear. Our ocean-going ships are getting too big for almost all of our ports, so the biggest of our ports is the only option they have, and those ports can only accommodate so many at a time. The concept of these larger ships is exciting, but somehow they forgot to consider how limited the number of destinations are today.

And it’s a global problem, not just here in the United States.

The pandemic has made these issues more apparent, but this problem would have become clear soon anyway.

Amazon has purchased half a dozen container ships which it plans to bring to the ports of Everette, Washington, and Houston, Texas.

I just learned that a furniture supplier ships to Panama Beach, Florida. I could check this port and bring my family to help me investigate.

WW “Jerry” Epperson, Jr. is founder and managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd., an investment bank and research firm. Jerry leads their research efforts and has over thirty years of experience publishing hard/soft dollar research that focuses on demographics, consumer products, furnishings (residential and contract) and related matters. Specifically, Jerry’s furniture industry research is recognized globally for its in-depth coverage of suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

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