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Published: 18 October 2017      

Drewry forecasts 4% growth for container trades

Lower growth and challenges from industry consolidation will make it difficult to develop new greenfield terminals, TOC conference hears.

Speaking at the TOC Container Supply Chain Conference in Lima, Peru this week, Dinesh Sharma, Director at Drewry shipping consultants, said the consultancy is now forecasting global container traffic will show an average growth rate of 4% for the next 5 years. This will bring over 40M TEU of new cargo into shipping, and drive global port volume up by 160M TEU.

The growth, however, will not be evenly spread. Commenting on the Americas, Dinesh said Drewry is forecasting 3% growth for North America, with the West Coast growing at close to 3% and the east and gulf coasts “slightly faster”. In South America, Drewry sees the east cost growing at 3% from 2018 and while west coast will average 4% over the five-year period, making it the best performing market in the Americas. 

Speaking in the same conference session Ricardo Sánchez, Officer in Charge, Natural Resources & Infrastructure Division at the Economic Commission for Latin America & the Caribbean, noted that global GDP is still in a slower growth phase compared to previous years when port volumes expanded rapidly. 

There is some good news: compared to 2016 domestic demand in South America is growing agin and “we are seeing some positives and more optimisim” said Sánchez. However the outlook for ports is “marred by stress” from the new alliances and bigger vessels that is driving up operating costs and capital requirements.

Relatively low growth and challenging market conditions are making it unattractive to develop new terminals in South America at the moment. Enno Koll, Head of Latin America for PSA International said the Singapore-based operator has four terminals in South America (including one in Cuba) but current conditions are not right for green field development.  “To build a new port you need 7% to 9% growth,” he said, “new terminals are not going to happen.”

Koll also noted that when growth is lower terminals have to look to steal volume from each other, while at the same time the shrinking number of carriers means this approach leads to a “winner takes all”scenario where some terminals miss out altogether. Today, he added, a terminal really needs to secure one of the three main alliances to be viable, and even then there are considerable challenges. Large ships require more infrastructure and investment, while at the same time investing in hardware is no guarantee of success. 

Faced with a low growth market terminals need new strategies.  PSA International is “thinking inside the box” and focusing on identifying the cargo in containers and working out how it can partner with customers for mutual success. It is also watching closely for disruptive change as new players like Amazon extend their reach into logistics. Koll highlighted that the way Uber disrupted the taxi market “was an eye opener” for the PSA, and the whole shipping industry must start “thinking about who will take our business”.

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