World box trade grows, but slows - 2019 looks good but for trade war

DESPITE a year-on-year four per cent increase in the global shipment of containers both for September to 13.7 million TEU, and for the full year to 125.2 million TEU, growth has slowed over the last six months, notes BIMCO.

By examining fleet growth, 2019 looks like a year in which the fundamental balance can only improve. But the trade war remains the wild card," said Peter Sand, chief analyst, of the Baltic and International Maritime Council that represents shipowners and managers.

As for 2018, he said: "On average, a TEU was being transported halfway across the globe on an ultra large containership for just US$825; at the same time last year, it was $898 per TEU. A loss-making and worse level year to date in 2018."

Asia-Europe saw solid growth during the peak season, he said. Volumes reached an all-time high in Q3 - six per cent higher than in Q2-2018, and 2.5 per cent more than in Q3-2017.

"For the volumes being shipped year-to-date, demand nevertheless remains very low, growing by just 1.7 per cent," said Mr Sand.

Trade from the Far East to North America, was much stronger, growing seven per cent from Q2-2018 and 4.8 per cent from Q3-2017.

"The impact of the trade war is also reflected in the data. Global demand is down from Q2 to Q3 by 1.5 per cent. Notably, both European and North American export volumes decreased from the second quarter to the third," he said.

Intra-Asia was down by 3.8 per cent in Q3 from Q2 but was up 4.6 per cent year to date.

"While spot freight rates out of Shanghai to the US East Coast (USEC) and US West Coast (USWC) have clearly improved in the third quarter, the full year has been quite solid too - up 6.4 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively," said Mr Sand.

"There is a similar story for the more-inclusive China Containerised Freight Index measurement - which also takes long-term contractual rates and more ports into account - with USEC up 1.3 per cent and USWC by 2.8 per cent," he said.

On September 24, a further 22.4 million tonnes of seaborne containerised goods were impacted as the US implemented tariffs on a $200 billion list of goods; that amounted to a further 2.24 million TEU, he said. In total, 3.6 million TEU (10 tonnes/TEU global average) are now officially affected by the trade war.

"The trade war is firing on all cylinders now. US importers are said to be paying 50 per cent more in tariffs in September compared with the same month last year. Two-thirds of the increase come from containerised goods," Mr Sand said.

"In China - where predominantly dry bulk goods are targeted, imports of many commodities have been dramatically reduced. This also goes for the 7.1 million tonnes of imported containerised goods that have been hit by tariffs on Chinese imports.

"As the market is clearly in no need of new tonnage, there has been a slide in the rate for chartered tonnage. When measured by the Harpex index, charter rates are almost back where they started in 2018 after the solid lifts of the first four months," Mr Sand said.

Smaller sizes have held on to some of what has been gained, while larger sizes such as 6,500 TEU and 8,500 TEU are now being fixed at rates below $10,000 per day and $12,500 per day, respectively.