Plenty Of Gifts For Container Shipping This Year…
The festive season is coming closer, and for many of us the time to get the seasonal shopping done is running out. For the containership sector, however, the peak shipping season was back in the summer, giving us a chance to reflect already on how consumer and manufacturing trends have left box shipping looking back on a busy year in terms of volumes.
Gifts In Boxes
It is currently projected that growth in global seaborne box trade will accelerate to 5.2% in full year 2017, up from 3.9% in 2016, and the slump to growth of 2.2% seen in 2015. That’s good news for container shipping lines and boxship owners, and like Santa’s sleigh being pulled rapidly through the snow, box volumes in 2017 have been driven speedily along by a range of factors. Foremost amongst them has been trade on the Transpacific route, where US consumer activity and retailers stockbuilding have pulled along a strong performance in eastbound volumes from Asia. Year-on-year growth in the key inventory/sales ratio in the US has largely been negative (see graph), following expansion last year. This has supported continued expansion in inbound volumes, supported by the US economy growing by its fastest rate since Q2 2015 in the third quarter this year. Overall in the first nine months of 2017, eastbound transpacific trade grew by 8% year-on-year.
Push And Pull
On the Far East-Europe trade, volume growth on the westbound leg, though not as robust as on the Transpacific, increased by 5% y-o-y in the first three quarters. Trends on the supply side in Asia clearly remained fairly resilient, pushing volumes along on the mainlanes. This has been illustrated by the performance of China’s monthly New Export Orders Index in which y-o-y growth has remained in positive territory this year (see graph). Elsewhere, North-South trade has provided a welcome bonus too, with projected growth of 4.6% in 2017 surpassing initial expectations, and intra-Asian container trade growth is expected to hit 6.6%, the fastest rate since 2013.
Looking beyond Q3, however, raises some concerns. The autumn closure of a number of factories in some areas of manufacturing in China has had a negative impact, though volumes remain far from collapse. In fact, allowing for the additional day of Golden Week holiday this year, and the usual slowing into October (less pronounced in 2016), the drop in growth appears to be not much more than might have been expected (peak leg Transpacific and Far East-Europe volumes combined fell by 0.6% y-o-y in October). The impact so far isn’t a major drag on the global picture this year, even if the full effect is still unclear and it remains an issue to watch going forward.
So, much of this year may have felt a bit like Christmas every day for container trade, including the peak season for shipping festive goods. Factors pulling volumes along have been a gift for overall seaborne trade too, with box trade accounting for almost 20% of the projected growth in tonnes this year.