The number of hopper barges (covered and uncovered) delivered in 2010 increased 27 percent over 2009.
According to Sandor J. Toth, publisher of River Transport News, the main reason for the increase was a drop in steel prices in the first quarter of 2010. This prompted shipyards to increase steel purchases, thus lowering the price of a newbuild barge. Helping orders was barge demand, which drove barge rates higher in 2010.
And that trend is continuing. As of Jan. 24, southbound grain shipments from St. Louis were around 390 to 400 percent of the benchmark tariff. Last year at this time, rates were about 290 percent of the benchmark, according to RTN.
American River Transportation Co. (ARTCO) was the most active last year, taking delivery of 200 hopper barges. American Electric Power (AEP) was next with 124, and Ingram added 88 new hoppers, according to RTN.
Trinity Marine Products built the most hopper barges last year, delivering 627 out of 900 total bottoms. That’s about 70 percent of the market. Jeffboat was second with 172 barges, and Brownsville Marine Products (BMP) delivered 101 bottoms.
Trinity’s large share of the market is due, in part, to the fact that Jeffboat and BMP have only one yard each. Trinity has four shipyards, two of which are dedicated to building hopper barges. “It’s a combination of price and quality and availability,” said Toth. “Jeffboat and BMP are one-site shipyards.”
Overall, the hopper fleet grew last year, according to Toth. The industry scrapped about 550 hopper barges last year for a net gain of about 350 barges.
Is that the sound of an economic recovery I hear?
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