First, the good news. Today, the Port of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, kicks off the 2015 Great Lakes Shipping season with the departure of the S.S. John G. Munson and its 24,000 tons of iron ore. The start of the Duluth shipping season represents the region's de facto spring, a time when the industrialists definitively conclude that the sun will, indeed, approach the Northern Hemisphere sometime during Q2.
But this year's shipping season commencement comes with a great deal of uncertainty. Sure, there's plenty of iron ore (and other commodities like coal and grains) to move right now. The winter layup and stockpiles formed amid last fall's rail delays leaves plenty of work for the big ships in the near future.
Nevertheless, iron ore prices fell again late last week -- a new six-year low of $54.60 per ton. Keewatin Taconite announced a May shutdown due to the pricing pressures, and other Range mines will surely do the same if prices stay that low.
So today is a day to celebrate, but also a day to plan ahead for a rough-and-tumble 2015. As you see in the Port's press release, some anticipate that imports will more than make up for the decline in oil and ore shipments. If that holds true, we could see a -- wait for it -- sea change in how economic traffic moves through the region.