Mixed Reviews

On February 14th:
– Matson Navigation announced that its fourth quarter operating profit took a 55 percent tumble – and it would have been a lot worse if Horizon Lines, Matson’s competitor for Guam and Hawaii business, had not pulled out last November.
– Matson Logistics posted a $ 600,000 fourth quarter net loss due to lower highway volume, reduced demand at the company’s West Coast warehouses, and weaker international volume following the discontinuance of its two China-Long Beach services.
– Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines (NOL) announced that its container shipping arm, APL, will begin phasing out its US fleet of container chassis, the skeletal truck trailers used to haul shipping containers over the road. The shipping line said it will turn its fleet over to organizations that specialize in providing chassis to drayage companies. “This is the direction the container shipping industry is moving,” a company official stated.

Sounds like the “reduced demand” for imports is having an effect on every segment of the supply chain. Weaker international volumes … the discontinuance of China-Long Beach services … the phasing out of chassis operations … all signs that requirements for over-the-road delivery services are diminishing. Logically then, there’s no point in wasting federal funds on WPA-type projects – like highway and bridge repair. But logic doesn’t really count in the White House. Here’s another announcement put out on February 14th. According to a report in Cargo Business News:

“President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal released this week would almost double spending on U.S. infrastructure over the next six years at $ 476 billion for highway, bridge and mass transit projects. The budget calls for $ 50 billion in transportation investment for 2012, including $ 26 billion for the National Highway Program and $ 4 billion for the National Infrastructure Investments program. The President’s budget would also allocate $ 350 billion towards a jobs plan ,,,

“The 2013 budget also includes $ 848 million for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund …drawing a mixed review by the association representing U.S. seaports.

“‘The president’s proposed civil works program increase for navigation is the highest request ever…’ said Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities in a statement.
However, the AAPA’s statement said the recommended HMFT allocation for U.S. seaports is ‘not close to the $ 1.4 billion collected annually from importers and domestic shippers for deep-draft navigation maintenance dredging’…

“He said the surplus ‘has been used for other programs’ and that ‘there are serious dredging needs that have gone unheeded.'”-

If Mr. Nagle is referring to the same 200 ports that former DOT Secretary Mineta wished to develop, then he’s right. Those needs shouldn’t go unheeded. But if he’s talking about dredging the nation’s sagging “king-ports”, then he’s as far off-base as those WPA-minded folks in the White House.