Asia-Europe box traffic sees strong quarter
Asia-Europe container volume growth accelerated at the end of the third quarter, providing some much-welcome relief for the route’s carriers following a disappointing 2018 so far.
The latest figures published by Container Trades Statistics show box traffic grew by 6.6% in September over last year, from 1.32m teu to 1.41m teu.
That represents the highest level of monthly growth reported by the trade since February, when volumes jumped by more than 30% on 2017 levels on account of the late Chinese New Year.
In the remainder of the quarter, July and August, peak season volumes on the Asia-Europe route flattered to deceive. Traffic through the two-month period was just about on par with last year, forcing carriers to abandon extra loaders and make the unprecedented move to cut capacity due to the volume shortfall.
The strong third quarter-end has helped push up year-to-date growth to a slightly more respectable 1.7%, rising from 11.96m teu to 12.16m teu. However, the return to form was still not enough to rejuvenate the spot market.
Both the Shanghai Containerised Freight Index and World Container Index showed box rates on the Asia-Europe route lost ground in September. The CTS Price Index followed suit, falling back from its 60-point mark in August to 58 points.
Anecdotal market reports suggest healthy volume growth has been upheld on the east-west route at the start of the fourth quarter. But with spot rates largely unmoved through October, analysts are calling for deeper capacity cuts on the trade to address the supply/demand imbalance.
Healthy Asia-Europe volumes in September also helped play a part in a return to form for global container traffic.
Following only a marginal increase in the number of containers shifted on the ocean-borne trades during August, up by just 0.5%, volumes swelled by 4.2%, according to CTS data.
Global volumes were up from 13.1m teu to 13.7m teu in September, resulting in just under 3% volume growth for the third quarter. Year-to-date volume growth through the nine months ending September 30 stood at 3.8%.
A key contributor to global box growth has been the transpacific, where the strong growth apparent throughout 2018 continued in September, despite further tariffs on Chinese imports into the US.
At the start of September, US ports, particularly on the Pacific coast, noted how a number of shippers had chosen to frontload cargo ahead of a second round of tariffs, contributing to a further spike in an already fruitful peak season.
This helped drive up volumes from 1.6m teu to 1.7m teu, a rise of 7.1% on year, on the Asia-North America trade. This represented the trade’s highest growth level since May.
Year-to-date traffic on the headhaul trade over the course of the first nine months was recorded at 5.1%, according to CTS.
With the second round of tariffs now in effect, however, carriers will be hoping that positive trade sentiment will help absorb any drop-off in Chinese imports.
08 November 2018