Consumers may feel Harvey's impact on Texas ports for months

(Port of Houston photo/file)
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PORT OF HOUSTON, Texas (KWTX) Loss of life, property damage and destruction all are well known effects of a hurricane, but Hurricane Harvey, could adversely impact consumers here and around the country for months.

The Port of Houston, which re-opened Friday after being closed for four days, has an economic impact on the United States estimated at $265 billion each year and is responsible for 1.2 million jobs all over the state, a study on the port published in 2016 says.

Waco economist Ray Perryman said the cessation or interruption of receipt of goods at the Port Houston can have devastating effects on the country's economy that could last for months.

"It could have a huge impact," Perryman said.

"Houston is the largest port in the country that receives container goods from Europe, through the Panama Canal, from all over the world and when those supplies get interrupted it effects the whole country," Perryman said.

About 80 percent of new foreign-made automobiles comes into the Port of Houston, along with almost all of the auto parts shipped to the U.S.

Steel from the Orient, food from all over the world, consumer goods from every country, clothing and virtually any product American consumers use, ships into the Port of Houston.

All those toys kids will want for Christmas likely are headed into Houston about now, and so were the decorations.

More containers ship into Houston than to any port in the world.

"I've been there and looked at that operation and it's massive," Perryman said.

"You can see almost everything in the world in those containers."

A whole bunch of them ship out, too.

Houston is the number one port in the U.S. for receipt of oil and petroleum products, but freight shipped there far transcends petroleum.

Interruption could have some immediate price effects if goods can't be provided for purchase.

It's the old economic axiom: "Supply versus demand. More supply than demand, prices fall, more demand than supply, prices rise."

"Every day that port doesn't function costs merchants and consumers," Perryman said.

It wasn't clear how many ships were anchored waiting access to port, but the latest statistics provided by Port Houston show an average of 734 vessels and 329 barges traverse the port every month.

Extended, that means an average of 36 vessels-a-day cruise the port, so for the third day cargo from 108 vessels hasn't been offloaded and no export goods have been loaded, either.

The port is the terminus of the Houston Ship Channel, a 50-mile manmade channel that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the docks at Port Houston.

The channel officially opened on Nov. 19, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson pushed an ivory button on his Washington, D.C. desk that fired a cannon salute in Houston.

The waterway was originally known as Buffalo Bayou and was swampy, marshy, and overgrown with dense vegetation, a Port of Houston website says.

"The dredging and deepening of the channel opened Houston to the world and is credited with fostering the growth and prosperity of the entire State of Texas," the website says.

Port Houston had a modernization project underway when Harvey struck that involved a $1.4 billion refit.

Port officials had not yet said what the condition of the project was in the wake of Harvey because it had not yet been assessed.

"Port Houston's economic activity helps keep Texas the nation's top exporting state," the port website says, explaining that "for the past 13 consecutive years, Texas has outpaced the rest of the country in exports."

The most recent statistics for June 2017 show the port had a general import tonnage of 418,084 for the month.

Steel imports are calculated separately and totaled 339,792 over the same time period.

Houston received 1,025,653 shipping containers in July 2017 and posted a total tonnage receipts of 1,783,529 in all categories, a Port of Houston report showed.
The total revenue of the goods received totaled $26,096,412.

Exports over the same period of time and in the same categories totaled 1,985,410 and showed a value of $26,889,624, the report showed.