Container shipments projected to increase as much as 6 percent

Source: Shipping

Influential US shipping blog remains sanguine on container growth in 2014

NEW YORK’s Maritime Professional is predicting a more than three per cent in US container traffic in 2014 based on the statements from the Transpacific Stablization Agreement (TSA), the Journal of Commerce and the National Retail Federation as well as other indications.

“Two of the most authoritative forecasts are by the National Retail Federation and the Journal of Commerce. The Journal’s economics forecaster, Mario Moreno, reckons container imports will grow six per cent this year to 19 million TEU, following a 3.5 per cent rise in 2013,” said the article by Martin Rushmore.

“The retailers say container import growth will be 3.7 per cent this year,” he said.

“Adding to the optimism is the proposed rate increase by the TransPacific Stabilization Agreement. There has already been an increase in January, a US$300 per FEU increase is planned for March and a $300 per FEU ‘cost and recovery increase’ for 2014-15 contract rates in May,” he said.

“The TSA is known for being extremely cautious in its forecasts and sometimes becomes overgloomy, but is now in an almost exuberant mood.’Pent-up demand, depleted retail and business inventories, and a greater overall sense of economic security are converging in 2014. Lines are determined not to miss that opportunity'” he said it, citing TSA’s recent press release.

Anticipating a faster pace of growth in transpacific trade, member container shipping lines of the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, which include APL, “K” Line, CSCL, Maersk, CMA CGM, MSC, Cosco, NYK, Evergreen, OOCL, Hanjin, Yang Ming, Hapag-Lloyd, Zim and Hyundai, have announced a March 15 rate rise of US$300 per FEU, with another one expected on May 1. The two general rate increases follow the January 15 hike of $300 per FEU.

The announcement comes as transpacific cargo demand has posted steady growth coming off a healthy holiday season, and container lines serving the Asia-US trade lane say the gains are so far reflected in freight rates.

“Carriers have left a lot of money on the table in this market as partially successful increases have been eroded over time,” said TSA executive administrator Brian Conrad.

At the same time, TSA also announced its 12-month revenue and cost recovery programme for 2014-15 contracts, which recommends increases to contract rates of $300 per FEU from 2013-14 levels for US west coast cargo and $400 per FEU for all other cargo.

“Simply rolling over last year’s contract rates – let alone reducing the rates, as some shippers have requested – is just not workable,” Mr Conrad said, reiterating that no major transpacific carrier operated profitably in the trade in 2012 or 2013.

“The goal is a meaningful net increase, with full cost recovery for fuel, chassis, free time and other costs, irrespective of supply/demand or other considerations,” he said.

But the Maritime Professional blog speaks of possible problems, such as US west coast docker contract negotiations and the chassis management.

“My own opinion is that no one wants to pay for repairs and maintenance – passing the buck – while the lines will only help with allocation to favoured customers such as Big Box stores,” said Mr Rushmore.

He also expressed concern about the fate and impact of the P3 and G6 mega alliances now awaiting the judgment of regulators in the US, Europe and China as well as their routing and capacity plans, the clean trucks programme and the US Harbour Maintenance Fee.

Another worry is that various countries in the TransPacific Partnership talks could become fractious over technology and clothing issues.

He says imports from Asia will be up 4.7 per cent, although volumes from China will slow down, largely because of the rising labour costs. Imports from Malaysia and Taiwan will show a drastic fall, 20 per cent below the 2007 peak.

Citing the JOC’s Mr Moreno, he said: “US container exports will be up two per cent this year, the same as in 2013, to 12.4 million, TEU. China will be a slight disappointment while Northern Europe’s economies will continue to struggle to get back to growth.”

“The spark of optimism has made Long Beach almost catch fire with enthusiasm. The port is now boasting that it will handle at least seven million TEU in the next year or two, up from 6.7 million TEU in 2013. Long Beach and LA jointly registered a four per cent increase in 2013,” Mr Rushmore said