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United States Leads Upturn in Global Container Port Sector

United States Leads Upturn in Global Container Port Sector

In recent years, the global container port industry has become accustomed to dealing with small rates of growth. That trend continued throughout 2016, but according to a report released last month, the final quarter of the year saw a surprising upturn.

According to the maritime research company Drewry’s, there was a marked uptick in port throughput in the last three months of 2016 (4Q16). The latest edition of their Ports and Terminals Insight report reveals that port traffic grew by over 5% compared to the last quarter of 2015. This represents a significant increase on the global growth rate of 2.4% in 3Q16.

The report, which was based on samples taken from every major world region, showed a global picture of growth, ranging from roughly 7% for North America and Southeast Asia, with the worst performing region, the Mediterranean, recording a healthy rise of 3.8%. In the context of a year in which global growth in the sector averaged little over 2%, these figures strongly suggest that there is a developing recovery in the sector.

Although growth was seen across the globe, North America was the main driver, with growth of 7.6% in port traffic during the last three months of 2016, a dramatic improvement from the previous quarter, when the North American container port sector saw a decline of 2%.

Increased consumer spending and investment was the main cause of the strong performance by the region, which is dominated by the United States. All of the major indicators, from GDP to wage rises suggest that, after years of stagnation, economic growth in the US is accelerating, and with the labour market, credit flow to business and the housing sector all looking strong, it can be argued that the US economy has recovered from the 2008 crisis.

Latin America also saw growth move from negative to positive in 4Q16, and both northern and southern European regions showed significant increases, with the south performing more strongly, driven by strong performances for Turkey and the Italian ports.

The Asian sector, which dominates the global container port industry, had experienced a better 2016 than most other regions, so the 4Q16 upturn was not as dramatic as that seen in the Americas, but southeast and northeast Asia showed notable improvements, as the recovery of global demand has boosted exports from trade-reliant nations. South Korean exports grew by 11% compared to 2015 and Japan showed a 5.4% increase, while major hubs such as Singapore, Port Kelang, Colombo and Salalah all performed well.

Analysing the rolling average 4-quarter growth rate confirms that these figures are part of a trend of growth and not merely a blip, which is heartening news for a sector that appeared to be in crisis in 2016, and for the wider freight industry. While the challenges of overcapacity and adapting to new technology remain to be met, these challenges will be easier to address against a backdrop of sector growth, supported by a continuing global economic recovery.