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Box terminals - doing more with less

Drewry expects throughput growth will weaken and utilisation rates will increase at container terminals over the next five years.

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Drewry Shipping Consultants has just released its Global Container Terminal Operators Annual Review and Forecast 2019.


The report forecasts global container port demand will average 4.4% growth over the next five years. This would lift world container port throughput from 784 M TEU in 2018 to 973 M TEU by 2023, an absolute increase of almost 190 M TEU. “The latest five-year forecast is a far cry from the heady days of the 2000s when forecasts were around 9% growth per annum until the global financial crisis of 2007-08 brought this to a shuddering halt,” Drewry notes.


Once again the markets of Middle East/South Asia and Southeast Asia/Far East are expected to record above average growth over the five year period, with Europe and both the Americas expected to produce lower growth.

Source Drewry Maritime Research, Global Container Terminal Operators Annual Review and Forecast 2019
Source Drewry Maritime Research, Global Container Terminal Operators Annual Review and Forecast 2019

On the supply side, Drewry expects total box terminal capacity will increase at a CAGR of just 2% over the same period, based on confirmed additions only. “This is well below the projected demand growth and reflects the continued easing off from greenfield projects by investors over the last few years. As a consequence, average utilisation at the global level is forecast to increase significantly from 70% in 2018 to 79% by 2023. This though remains a comfortable level for both operators and customer alike,” Drewry stated.


The gap between additional capacity and demand means utilisaton rates rise, especially in China where growth is still above the global average at many facilities. In fact Neil Davidson, author of the report and Drewry’s senior analyst for ports and terminals, calculates utilisation could hit 100% in China by 2023.


“The previous very rapid pace of capacity expansion is on hold, with the focus instead being on consolidation of port and terminal ownership into large groups. This, plus the uncertainty about China’s international trade growth in the face of tariff wars and protectionism, suggests that the government is taking a cautious approach,” he said.


The top 7 global terminal operators by throughput in 2018.

The report also ranks the global terminal operators by throughput (calculated based on equity stakes) for 2018. Cosco has risen to third place in the rankings from fifth in 2017, leap frogging APM Terminals and DP World in the process. “A premier league of seven big operators has emerged, after which the next largest player is a third of the size. Between them they accounted for nearly 40% of global throughput in 2018,” said Davidson.


Source: Drewry Maritime Research, Global Container Terminal Operators Annual Review and Forecast 2019.

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