“Container trade growth appears to have improved in 2016 so far, having slowed to an estimated rate of just 2.2% in 2015 — the slowest pace of growth since 2009,” Clarksons said. “Whilst global economic risks clearly remain, total container volumes are estimated to reach 182m TEU in full-year 2016, representing growth of 3.8%.” That has been balanced by growing demolition levels and reduced deliveries, Clarkson added, which meant that supply growth was just 1.1% in the first half of this year.
“By the end of 2016, the containership fleet is expected to total 20.2m TEU, representing growth of just 2.4% year on year, which would be the slowest pace on record, following a rate of 8.1% in 2015,” Clarksons said. This would lead to a reversal of last year’s trend and could see containerized trade growth this year outpace expansion in the containership fleet.
“This will help to erode some of the overcapacity generated last year, although further significant changes to the balance will be needed before market conditions improve,” Clarksons said. “The freight market remains under significant pressure, and where improvements have been achieved, gains have been limited. Charter rates have languished at historically low levels in 2016 so far, and while supply side fundamentals remain positive for some parts of the market, a sustained and significant improvement in box trade growth will be needed for rates to increase.”
Clarksons said main-lane trades, which expanded just 0.6% in 2015, were projected to grow 3.2% to 53.1m TEU this year as the Asia-Europe trade improved. After contracting by 3.1% in 2015 on the back of Russia sanctions, slow growth in European economies and readjustment of inventory levels, Asia-Europe trade picked up in the first half of the year and is expected to grow by 3.9% in the full year.
On the transpacific trade, peak volumes grew more slowly, but were still expected to reach 16.1m teu this year, an increase of 4%, Clarksons said.
Meanwhile, a strong US dollar relative to European currencies is forecast to boost head-haul traffic to the US across the Atlantic as well, with volumes expected to increase by 3.6% to 4m TEU.
Elsewhere, on the non-main lane trades, Clarksons expects volumes to grow by 4% to 128.6m TEU, and said east-west trade, particularly between Asia and the Indian sub-continent, would be among the fastest growing.
On the north-south trades, however, the collapse in commodity prices hit import levels to producing countries last year, and this continued into 2016.
“Imports into both Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa appear to remain under pressure, although box exports from these two regions to the northern hemisphere are estimated to have at least exhibited fairly firm growth,” Clarksons said.
Recovering growth in Asia is expected to see intra-regional volumes accelerate by 4% this year as the high-volume intra-Asia trades pick up again following disruptions last year brought about by China’s economic turbulence.
“While China appears to be continuing its transition towards a more diverse economy and away from a focus on heavy industry, prospects for intra-Asian container trade remain positive,” Clarksons said.
“Developing Asian economies continue to hold growth potential, and the multi-location assembly of manufactured goods is expected to continue, particularly with developments in wage differentials across the region.”