U.S. seaports help deliver vital goods to consumers, ship exports overseas and support millions of jobs. In fact, seaports are a vital economic engine for the U.S., and the nation’s import and export volumes are one of the top demand drivers for industrial real estate.
Over the past few years, U.S. ports have undergone significant change as the global shipping industry has rapidly evolved. To get products to consumers quicker and more efficiently, ship sizes are growing at a faster rate than ever before. These shifts have put ports in catch-up mode, with capital improvement projects underway or recently completed at nearly all locations to better service larger vessels. While West Coast ports are naturally better suited for this trend thanks to deeper harbors, the recent expansion of the Panama Canal has created an opportunity for more cargo to shift to ports along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast.
As we look ahead, a thriving U.S. economy should keep import volumes booming on both coasts in the short term. However, exports could be impacted by a strong U.S. dollar, and it remains to be seen how possible shifts in U.S. trade policy could affect imports in the long term. While the long-term effects of the Panama Canal expansion on East Coast/West Coast port market share won’t be seen until improvements are completed along East Coast ports, a major trend to watch in the coming year will be the effects of new shipping alliances on global trade and the ports themselves.
The new shipping partnerships reorganize the four main alliances (2M Alliance, Ocean Three Alliance, G6 Alliance and CKYHE Alliance) into three (2M Alliance, THE Alliance and the Ocean Alliance). These three alliances cover more than 77% of global container capacity and can have a major impact on shipping costs and terminal occupancy. Already, two major ports (the Port of Savannah and the Port of Virginia) have forged an alliance of their own to counter this wave of consolidations.
In this Industrial U.S. Seaport Outlook, we will explore these trends and their effect on ports throughout the country, providing insight into port capabilities and fundamentals and how they will affect the surrounding industrial real estate markets in the coming years.