It appears that the container shipping industry finished 2013 with strong container volumes.
The Container Throughput Index of the Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research (RWI) and Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL) hit its highest value ever — 119.9 — in December. The two organizations began publishing the monthly index two years ago.
The December “flash forecast” of 119.9 is a small increase from the 117.9 recorded in November. The two institutes, however, cautioned that the current flash forecast for December is based on a sample of only 33 ports handling little less than half of the traffic represented in the index. They said a strong revision could be in store next month. The whole index is based on data of 73 world container ports covering approximately 60 percent of worldwide container handling.
However, the container carrier OOCL also reported strong container volumes in the final quarter of 2013 when it released an unaudited fourth quarter operational update on Friday. OOCL carried 1,395,794 TEU in the fourth quarter of 2013, up 10 percent from the same period last year; this was a strong finish to a year in which it moved 5,293,537 TEU — a much more modest 1.5-percent increase over 2012.
Because large parts of the international merchandise trade are transported
by ship, the development of port handling is a good indicator for world
trade, say RWI and ISL. “As many ports release information about their activities only two
weeks after the end of the respective month, the RWI/ISL Container
Throughput Index is a reliable early indicator for the development of
international merchandise trade and, hence, for the activity of the global
Earlier this month, both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reported higher cargo volumes in December, with the Port of Los Angeles attributing the increase to shippers moving cargo in preparation for the Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan. 31. Many factories shut down during the period, and cargo volumes plummet in the weeks after, something clearly visible in the RWI/ISL index.
Several executives attending the annual dinner of the New York/New Jersey Foreign Freight Forwarders & Brokers Association last week said they had seen shipments “rolled” because of a surge in cargo volumes in advance of the Lunar New Year holiday, during which many workers return home to visit their families.
OOCL’s figures did not show such a positive development for revenue during the end of 2013. OOCL’s total revenue was $1.4 billion for the fourth quarter of 2013, down 1.6 percent from the same period in the fourth quarter of 2012. Still, that was better than the revenue picture for the year as a whole. OOCL said 2013 revenue was $5.6 billion, down 4.9 percent from 2012.
OOCL is generally one of the best performing carriers in the container business. It had an operating profit in five of the six years between 2007 and 2012, losing money only in 2009, when all the major container carriers did. Last year, in American Shipper‘s annual “Who’s making money” survey, it ranked as having the second highest cumulative operating profit from 2007 to 2012 among the 15 top container carriers.
OOCL’s fourth-quarter volumes in 2013 were boosted by a strong 15.7-percent increase in its intra-Asia and Australasia business, where it moved 767,880 TEU. Volumes in other trades during the fourth quarter were up more modestly — transpacific was up 5.8 percent to 312,404 TEU; Asia-Europe rose by 1.7 percent to 220,429 TEU; and transatlantic gained 2 percent to 95,081 TEU.
All those trades were stronger than they were for the full year. In 2013, OOCL’s volumes compared to 2012 were down 1.6 percent on the transpacific to 1,233,131 TEU; down 4.7 percent on the Asia-Europe lane to 843,652; down 3.2 percent on the transatlantic to 394,842 TEU; up 5.6 percent in the intra-Asia/Australasia trade to 2,821,912 TEU.
Revenue for OOCL’s major trade lanes was as follows:
- Intra-Asia/Australasia trade: Up 2 percent, year over year, to $530.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2013; down 2.1 percent in 2013 to $2.05 billion compared to 2012. (While the intra-Asia/Australasia trade produces more than half the container volume for OOCL, the relatively shorter trips common in the trade mean it produces a lower share of revenue.)
- Transpacific: Down 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter to $467 million; down 3.4 percent to $1.92 billion for the year.
- Asia/Europe: Down 6.7 percent to $253 million in the fourth quarter; down 11.4 percent to $1.03 billion for the year.
- Transatlantic: Down 1.6 percent to $150 million in the fourth quarter; down 6.8 percent to $615.5 million for the year.