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Alphaliner has slashed its global container throughput growth estimate for this year to just 2.5% from 3.6%.
A weak first quarter and expected headwinds from the US-China trade war are taking their toll, said the consultant.
The downgraded growth prediction is edging closer to the negative view of expansion expressed by Maersk Line, which shocked investors with its downbeat forecast in February of just 1-3% growth this year.
According to data from over 250 global ports surveyed by the consultant, the average growth in the first three months of the year reached only 2.8%, compared with the same period last year.
Alphaliner also noted that the rate of growth was “unevenly spread between regions”.
“Several emerging markets have posted negative cargo volume growth and thus pulled down the global growth rate,” it said.
Middle East ports performed the worst, with their volumes shrinking by a substantial 10.1% versus Q1 2018.
African and Oceania volumes fell by 4.4% and 1.1% respectively, with the former being dragged down by a sharp 16% drop in volume at South African ports. Oceania throughput was impacted by negative volume growth at the Australian ports of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle.
However, the two biggest trades, Asia-North Europe and the transpacific, reported more robust growth of 3.5% and 4.8%, respectively.
In regard to the trade war between the US and China, which has seen tariffs on a range of Chinese imports raised from 10% to 25% on 15 May, followed by a ‘tweeted’ threat of tariffs on some $325bn of additional goods on 1 June, Alphaliner expects throughput volumes to be further hit.
It said: “The escalation of the trade war between China and the US is expected to bring down container volume growth rates in both countries over the coming quarters.”
The consultant noted that transpacific spot rates between Asia and the US west coast had fallen by 15% in the last two weeks and that the Ocean Alliance group of carriers had announced two blank sailings next month in an anticipation of a decline in volumes.
Nevertheless, April US box terminal throughput data compiled by New York City-based consultant Blue Alpha Capital suggests the impact of the tariff hike, and the potential new duty on other Chinese imports, has been slow to deflate imports.
It reported a 6.6% year-on-year growth in imports during April, up from the 4.7% gain in the previous month.
This was supported by Japanese merged ocean carrier ONE, which published its April liftings today, recording a healthy transpacific headhaul volume of 211,000 teu and a load factor of 86%.
A year ago, after the botched merger on 1 April of the container businesses of K Line, MOL and NYK, ONE’s liftings on the same route for the month came in at a disastrous 94,000 teu, and a lowly utilisation level of 70%.
The numbers suggest that the carrier has been successful in recovering much of its customer base over the past year.