Port Report: Container volumes hit ‘air pocket’ but no major slowing, says Susquehanna Financial

 ( Photo: Cosco Shipping )
( Photo: Cosco Shipping )

Read on economy from container data does not indicate slowdown yet in cards for global trade.

Trans-Pacific container volume growth slowed in January, but it does not yet hint at any serious slowdown in world trade, according to Susquehanna Financial Group, reflecting a more typical “air pocket” driven by seasonality.

One of the busiest trade lanes in the world saw good growth last year  with Port of Long Beach container volumes up 7 percent for 2018, Seattle’s ports seeing 11.6 percent growth and Oakland up 5.2 percent.

Susquehanna equity analyst Bascome Majors said the numbers being reported by West Coast ports show that many shippers were looking to move goods “before the early December cease-fire delay of the original January 1st deadline (for tariffs) coupled with pre-shipping ahead” of the China’s Lunar New Year, which started February 5.

Rolling into January, Asia’s major container ports showed some seasonal slowing with yearly growth coming in at 4 percent, versus a December growth rate of 6 percent. But the U.S. West Coast gateways showed a 5 percent month-to-month decline in container imports in January, “effectively reversing the tariff pull-forward evident in December’s sharp outperformance.”

The slowdown is also showing up the container lifting data from Japan’s Ocean Network Express, the sixth-largest container line by volume. Its eastbound volumes for January were 233,000 twenty-feet equivalent units (teu), the lowest since last June. While slower than December, Susquehanna’s Majors said the data does not indicate any “real sign of economic deceleration.”

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China’s demand for coal and iron ore is a major determinant of the direction of Australia’s commodity-dependent economy. So any potential blip in that demand has a major effect on the outlook for Australia’s economy. A report that China is limiting the amount of coal it will take from Australia and capping overall imports sent the value of the Australia’s dollar down as well as market values of its major mining companies. But FreightWaves’ Jim Wilson writes the reports may overstate what’s happening. Local sources said China’s Port of Dalian, the main gateway for coal imports, typically sees longer customs clearance times due to the Lunar New Year slowdown. While coal cargoes may be getting backed up as a result, the slowdown is “almost an annual event” and does not signify a wholesale ban on Australian coal.


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Michael Angell, Bulk and Intermodal Editor

Michael Angell covers maritime, intermodal and related topics for FreightWaves. His interest in transportation stretches back several generations. One great-grandfather was a dray horseman along the New York waterfront and another was a railway engineer in Texas. More recently, Michael has written about the shipping industry for TradeWinds, energy markets for Oil Price Information Service, and general business topics for FactSet Mergerstat and Investor's Business Daily. When he is not stuck in the office, he enjoys tours of ports, terminals, and railyards.