A strong start to 2013 can’t disguise a poor showing for the battling Pearl River Delta ports.
Don’t be fooled by a late rush of cargo demand in January. Chinese New Year was later than usual in mid-February this year, giving shippers enough time to get orders in before the mainland’s three-week shut down.
The surge in load factors in January was good news for China ports, but as Alphaliner pointed out, demand is expected to weaken considerably this month. When it comes to Lunar New Year in China, everything closes down.
Alphaliner predicts cargo volume will be below ship capacity growth, utilization levels will weaken and there will be an increase in idle vessels.
The Asia-Europe trade is looking particularly weak. Maersk has suspended its AE-9 service and the ships will stay unemployed for a couple of months.
And yet the G6 Alliance plans to increase its Europe Loop 4 service by almost 10 percent, according to PR New Service.
The additional capacity will be introduced in March and April when the lines in the alliance – APL, Hyundai, NYK and OOCL – phase in their new 13,000 and 14,000 TEU ships.
PR News Service reckons this will push up the average weekly capacity on the Asia-Europe service to 13,300 TEU. Interesting to note that space is increasing when all indicators point to a decline in demand, but you never know.
What is certain is the performance of ports in Asia during 2012. Those figures are all in and there are some very interesting numbers.
For instance, Ningbo handled 16.8 million TEUs last year and is poised to overtake Busan and become the world’s fifth busiest port. The port just south of giant Shanghai grew at a phenomenal 14.3 percent at a time when exports were slowing.
The fastest growing China port was Yingkou in the Bohai Rim, just around the corner from Tianjin. Yingkou saw throughput climb by over 20 percent to 4.9 million boxes, although it was admittedly from a “small” base.
But the most interesting port figure was the one on Hong Kong. Container throughput in Hong Kong fell 5.2 percent in 2012, putting it just 200,000 boxes ahead of Shenzhen.
But it is not so much losing a place on the busiest port list that is so troubling to Hong Kong. Its container terminals at Kwai Tsing saw flat growth but river trade and transshipment boxes fell by an incredible 19 percent.
Figures in eight of the 12 months show falls in transhipment of 20 percent or more, and in three of those months the transit boxes handled fell by more than 30 percent!
So it was in the transshipment sector when you can count each box twice that the port made its greatest throughput losses. If there is no alarm bell ringing down the roof at the head offices of HIT, Modern Terminals, DP World and Cosco, the repairman needs to take a look at the gong.
With its dismal annual result, it will not be a surprise to learn that Hong Kong was the only Asian port in the top 25 to record a decline in throughput for the year.
Neighbouring Shenzhen came close with a marginal 1.6 percent growth and Guangzhou (which includes Nansha) was up 2.2 percent, reflecting a disturbing trend for the Pearl River Delta ports. Manufacturing is migrating inland and many containers that once were trucked from the factories or barged down to Shenzhen or Hong Kong are now being floated down the Yangtze.
It appears as though the growth of the future will all be up north at ports such as Shanghai, Ningbo, Tianjin, Qingdao and Dalian.