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Nov.30, 2015

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18 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE NOVEMBER 30.2015 U.S. GULF REPORT SPECIAL REPORT IT'S A BOOM time at U.S. Gulf ports for imports of steel and project cargoes. From Florida to Texas, the region's ports are enjoying a second year of increased import volumes, driven by a strong dollar and U.S. economic growth. In Texas and Louisiana, the low prices of oil and natu- ral gas have fueled investment of tens of billions of dollars in building and expanding petro- chemical and oil refining plants, which are being built with components sourced all over the world. Farther east, the growth of population and automotive plants is attracting steel and forest prod- ucts imports for the housing markets. The strong f low of project cargo imports is likely to last for several more years. But breakbulk steel imports, which hit record levels last year and are up again this year, are starting to weaken in western Gulf ports as declin- ing oil prices cut demand for oil-drilling components. Steel imports are still increasing in the eastern Gulf, but could slide next year if the strength of the dollar wanes. Still, the long-term out- look for project cargo and steel trade in both directions remains strong. "As the dollar starts to weaken after 2016, you'll see steel imports begin to wane a little bit, but that will be OK, because then our exports pick up," said Walter Kemmsies, chief economist at port design consul- tant Moffatt & Nichol. "The bottom line is that it's good to be a Gulf Coast port." The strong inbound breakbulk and project cargo flows haven't been good news for carriers, however, because there's no boom on the outbound side. Exports are flagging because the dol - lar's rise has driven up the price of U.S. commodities, stalling overseas growth. "There are some pretty substantial projects happening here in the Gulf, and that's going to continue for the next few years," said Steven Neuendorff, head of Americas at Hansa Heavy Lift, a Dan- ish carrier specializing in transporting equipment for oil and gas projects. "But coming out of here, there is very little. Heavy investment in petrochemical and automotive plants is fueling strong growth in breakbulk imports through U.S. Gulf ports By Peter T. Leach

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