Archive for January 28th, 2016

Introducing The Puerto Cabello Non-Baltic Index (PCNI)

January 28, 2016


The picture above created a lot of noise on Jan. 19th. It is a picture of the La Guaira port just outside Caracas, showing that there were no ships unloading anything that date. The picture was purportedly shown as proof that famine is coming to Venezuela as imports had ground to a halt. Moreover, people suggested, this also proved that the country was about to default.

The faulty reasoning about the picture is that the La Guaira Port has not been the main source of food imports for Venezuela for quite a while. In fact, most ships that stop in La Guaira are container ships, bringing “stuff” or “peroles”, as Venezuelans like to call them. Venezuela’s main port is the Puerto Cabello port, where most food imports come to the country, as the Port has silos for storage, grain sucking facilities, as well as liquid discharge facilities.

A while back I wrote a post about how ships carry  an AIS (Automatic Identification System) which allows all ships to be tracked. There are websites like this one or this one, where you can follow each step of what is going on. At the time, I was interested in the fact that there was a slowdown in downloading cargoes due to inefficiencies. Thus, on Jan. 19th. when the La Guaira picture circulated I compared picture from my post in May 2014, with that from the first website I mentioned on Jan. 19th.:


What I found was that on Jan. 19th. (right panel) there were 15 ships in port, the same number as in May 2014 (left panel), the difference being that in 2014, there were many ships outside waiting to go in. But the number of ships unloading stuff were the same on the two dates: Fifteen.

Of course, this is a static picture, may depend at what time of day you go in, for example; and you don’t know what it is that these ships are unloading at any time. Some could be container ships bringing nails, rather than being grains or something else

Thus, I decided to start going into the website frequently and writing down the number of cargo ships in port and call it the Puerto Cabello Non-Baltic Index (PCNI) and follow it in time and report any significant changes. As I said, this is just an indication of the number of ships and it could be that its not all food. But should the PCNI drop at some point it would indicate that there is indeed trouble in the future in terms of food supply.

I have been taking data since Jan. 19th. simply recording the number of ships docked, whether they are container ships or not (I could actually look at each ship in the website and see what type it is). I hope this is useful in evaluating whether tougher times are coming and in making more quantitative whether things are going to become serious or not in the absence of hard Government data on any of these matters in real time.

Below is the first plot since then. It began with 15 ships and it has indeed been going down in the last few days, with 9 ships today, but according to the webpage 6 ships are due to arrive, even if it does not say when:


There is clearly a downtrend, but it is not clear whether this is due to the Xmas season (Venezula shuts down for Xmas) or whether it si something to worry about. In a few days we should know.

I will try to update it whenever the changes are significant