Nassau’s lone cargo port yesterday expressed optimism that it has “started closing the gap” to pre-COVID business volumes, with vehicle imports accounting for 20 percentage points over the course of the year. only month of May.
Dion Bethell, chairman and chief financial officer of Arawak Port Development Company (APD), told Tribune Business that he “can sense over the past four to six weeks” that shipping activities have resumed in line with the reopening and to the post-COVID reopening of the tourism industry. that of the economy in the broad sense.
Speaking after the operator of the BISX-listed container port of Nassau posted a 37% drop in profits for the nine months to the end of March 2021, Mr. However, as a result of a peak in car arrivals that started at the end of April, this category was only 30% down from the previous year’s comparisons.
ODA performance is a good benchmark against which to measure that of the Bahamian economy at large, given that 90 percent of all imports into New Providence pass through its silos, and Mr Bethell said that it was on track to revert to pre-COVID shipping volumes by 2022 calendar quarter if current trends continue.
“At the end of April, for the month of May, we noticed an increase in the number of vehicles now imported,” he revealed. “This is, for us, an indicator that things are starting to improve from where they were. We’ve seen quite a few vehicles coming in, but not at pre-COVID volumes.
“When you look year over year, we were down 50% for the nine months up to March, and now we’re down 30%. That gap is starting to narrow. on the other, we were also down around 20% in volumes of twenty-foot equivalent containers (TEU) and relatively stable in tonnage.
“It is still unclear when conditions will reach pre-COVID levels, but volumes are starting to pick up. In terms of volumes imported by ocean carriers, over the last four to six weeks, we can feel that there is some increase, ”continued Mr. Bethell.
“I guess a lot are tied to hotels and government with their initiatives to drive the tourism machine. Wholesalers like Bahamas Food Services and others are starting to bring in additional volumes to supply major hotel properties like Atlantis and Baha Mar. ”
ODA import volume data shows how economic activity in the Bahamas dried up in April / May and late summer / fall of last year, resulting in coincided with the peak of COVID lockdowns and associated public health restrictions. For example, TEU import volumes fell nearly 38% year-on-year in April 2020, as the number of imported containers fell by more than 2,000, from 5,815 in 2019 to 3,620.
Fast forward to early 2021, and Nassau Container Port’s monthly TEU volumes declined from 900 to 1,000 year-over-year for each of the three months of the first quarter of the calendar year . However, January and February faced pre-COVID comparisons, while March 2020 was only partially affected by lockdowns linked to the pandemic.
Thus, the April 2021 ODA figures provide a better indication of the Bahamas’ overall demand position, both against the COVID and pre-COVID lockdown figures, based on TEU container volumes. While April was 37.3% up from the previous year with 4,972 containers, it was still down 14.5% from the same month in 2019.
“We are confident that this is starting to pick up,” Bethell told this newspaper of the import business. “It’s not a downtrend, it’s holding, and we don’t expect it to trend any lower than it is now. We are convinced that the cruise-to-home initiative, that this will be a big game-changer and hopefully motivate and start to give tourists some confidence to travel.
“The volumes that are starting to rise, the activity, we think this is indicative of what we feel around the city; that things are starting to look more positive, certainly compared to the same time last year. When you look at our [COVID infection] the numbers are worrying because we constantly see numbers that are up there, but we appreciate that the government is very determined to turn the economy around.
Mr Bethell said that if the Bahamian economy continues to reopen and maintain its current momentum, and the government’s recently announced fiscal measures take effect, “these things will lend themselves favorably to a recovery by the end of the year. of this year ; the fourth quarter entering the first quarter of next year ‘for ODA import volumes.
Measured against ODA’s own internal forecast, he added that TEU volumes were “relatively stable” while vehicle volumes “are still down by a third”. However, “on the bulk aggregate side, this number is up about 20% from budget, and this is mainly due to the incoming project cargo and the tonnage of non-containerized cargo.”
Such cargo, explained Mr. Bethell, typically included heavy equipment and materials such as sheet piles that are used for the $ 250 million Nassau cruise port transformation project. “It picked up,” he added, “but it still works based on the previous year’s comparisons.”
The DPA chief said no decision has been made by the company’s board of directors regarding the payment of dividends to shareholders this year, with the last return of capital taking place in December. He added that the company remained “very cautious” in managing its spending amid the ongoing economic fallout from COVID-19.
ODA net income for the first nine months of its 2021 fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, fell by more than a third year-on-year, from $ 7.905 million before COVID to $ 4.984 million, a down nearly $ 3 million. . Much of this was due to a 17.7% drop in revenue, as revenue fell from $ 25.517 million to $ 20.988 million. Total spending fell 17.3%, from $ 12.262 million to $ 10.14 million.