Power at the top
U.S. import statistics show that while major Asian ports lost volume in 2009 they grew market share.
By Eric Johnson
While 2009 may have been an unqualified disaster for most of Asia's ports, some interesting dynamics began to emerge in terms of U.S. imports.
According to data provided to American Shipper by Zepol Corp., a host of top ports in Asia actually benefited from the container demand downturn by boosting their market share of goods shipped to the United States.
Zepol's statistics measure inbound containers using U.S. Customs data straight from carrier bills of lading. As Kevin Palmstein, Zepol's director of marketing and product development, put it, the data shows the point from 'where the carrier took possession of the goods.'
So while Shanghai, the second-busiest container port in the world, actually saw total volume recede 10.7 percent in 2009 to 25 million TEUs compared to 2008, the share of U.S. imports passing through the port increased from 16.8 percent to 17.6 percent last year.
In other words, the pie became smaller, but Shanghai's slice relative to other ports became bigger.
The import origin information, which Zepol calls 'place receipt,' is significant for a variety of reasons. On a basic level, it shows where the United States is sourcing its goods. For carriers, this type of information is critical in determining how services should be arranged.
But the data also provides a snapshot of which ports in Asia are focused on import/export cargo and which ones are truly reliant on transshipment cargo. Transshipment cargo can help ports increase their volume and draw services, but it is far less lucrative and consistent than import/export cargo (August 2008 American Shipper, page 68-72).
An easy example of this dichotomy is Singapore, the world's busiest port for several years running, and one that readily accepts its role as a Southeast Asia transshipment hub. Roughly 95 percent of the port's 2009 volume, or 25.9 million TEUs in 2009, is from transshipment, and volume dropped 13.5 percent last year. Though Singapore handles a huge number of transshipment containers headed for U.S. ports, it handles a relatively small amount of direct exports headed there.
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According to Zepol, it is the 25th-largest point of origin for U.S. imports from Asia (The Port of Shenzhen's individual terminals ' Yantian, Chiwan and Shekou ' are broken out as individual points in Zepol's data, and all three rank ahead of Singapore). U.S. imports from Singapore have shrunk from 97,797 TEUs in 2007 to 94,914 TEUs in 2008, to 73,628 TEUs in 2009, or 0.03 percent of its total volume.
Hong Kong, another port that relies heavily on transshipment, is similarly losing impact in terms of direct U.S. imports. Its volume shrank from 961,706 TEUs in 2007 to 809,688 TEUs in 2008, to 586,868 TEUs in 2009. Exports to the United States from Hong Kong have shrunk 46.2 percent since a recent high in 2006.
Shanghai, on the other hand, has a more balanced mix of import/export and transshipment volume. Of the port's 25 million TEUs in 2009, 8.4 percent was derived from export traffic to the United States. That was a falloff from the 9 percent U.S. imports represented in 2008, but not so steep considering the nosedive in U.S. demand for containerized
Shanghai's neighbor, Ningbo, also benefited in the last year, raising its share of U.S. imports from 4.8 percent to 5.4 percent despite its volume to the United States dropping 4.5 percent to 636,976 TEUs.
Busan, Korea's biggest port, also grew its share of U.S. imports from 4.2 percent to 4.3 percent, despite its volume to the United States dropping 11.5 percent to 512,240 TEUs, and its total volume dropping 11.1 percent to just less than 12 million TEUs. Interestingly, Busan gained more share of U.S. imports in 2009, when its volume dropped 11.5 percent from 2008, than it did in 2008, when its volume dropped only 4.7 percent from 2007.
Yantian, the biggest terminal in the Port of Shenzhen, and larger on its own than most ports, saw its market share of U.S. imports rise steadily from 2003 through 2007 until it finally dropped off in 2008, when the U.S. housing downturn started. Yantian has traditionally been the largest origin for U.S. imports and it held steady in 2009, gaining 0.1 percent market share in a year in which its U.S. import volume dwindled 14.3 percent. However, Shanghai has been gradually reeling Yantian in ' since 2006 Shanghai's market share has grown from 14.9 percent to 17.6 percent while Yantian's has fallen from 18.9 percent to 18.4 percent.
Another upward mover is Ho Chi Minh City, which saw its share of U.S. imports grow to 2.5 percent in 2009 from 2.4 percent in 2008 and 1 percent in 2003. Vietnam's largest container gateway has grown its share in each of the seven years for which Zepol provided statistics, a feat matched only by Shanghai, Qingdao, Ningbo and Xiamen.
In all, the top 10 ports on the list accounted for more than 65.7 percent of U.S. import volume. And those ports gaining market share at the top means that ports with smaller volume to the United States were losing market share. Tokyo, Laem Chabang (in Thailand), and Kobe are among the dozen or so large ports whose market share shrank in 2009.
The data also shows some strong historical patterns of concentration at the top. Whereas the leading origin points for U.S. imports in 2003 was very fragmented ' Yantian was tops with 16.3 percent and Shanghai was second with 9.4 percent ' now those two account for more than 36 percent of U.S. imports. Factor in Ningbo's 5.4 percent share and the 4.9 percent from Hong Kong and 1.8 percent share from Shenzhen's other terminals (all are in the west Pearl River Delta) and more than 48 percent of U.S. imports from Asia originate from two metropolitan regions.
China's third blossoming region, the Bohai Bay (related story), has a long way to go in terms of developing as an origin point for U.S. imports. The four main ports ' Qingdao, Tianjin, Dalian and Xingang ' have a combined market share of 9.1 percent. Not bad, but not yet comparable to the clusters of terminals in the Pearl River and Yangtze river deltas.
That Qingdao, Tianjin, and Dalian actually gained volume in 2009 when almost every other cluster of ports lost volume speaks to the potential of those ports to become a larger player in transpacific trade. As of now, their volume seems to be largely driven the by intra-Asia and Asia/Europe trades.