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Q1 volume growth at China ports falls

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The global economy appeared to be ticking along in the first quarter, with cargo throughput at all major ports rising by 3.4% from the first quarter of 2017, according to the Shanghai International Shipping Institute’s (SISI) latest Global Port Development Report for Q1 2018.

However, throughput growth at Chinese ports slowed down, falling 4.1 percentage points to 3.1bn tons, the lowest since the fourth quarter of 2016. Among the segments, domestic trade was relatively worse hit, falling 5.8 percentage points as policy adjustments and a high base from the robust growth in the first three quarters of last year weighed on the figures.

But international trade throughput remained relatively stable, with Chinese ports handling 1.0bn tons, an increase of 5.0% year-on-year.

Among Chinese ports the continuing rise of the southern ports remains on trend, with Port of Guanghou seeing a spectacular 11% rise in throughput to jump one place to the fifth largest port in terms of cargo throughput while Port of Qingdao, which saw almost flat growth dropped down to sixth place from fifth previously. Port of Tianjin, previously a key port in the Bohai Rim region, saw throughput plunge 7%, dropping it two places to ninth and fellow northern Port of Dalian dropped to the bottom of the top 10 port rankings with its 4% fall in throughput.

Global container trade volumes showed stable growth momentum, rising 6.0% to 77.2m teu. Among the major global terminal operators, all except COSCO Shipping Ports saw slower growth, SISI said.

In the first quarter, COSCO Shipping Ports saw total container throughput rise 14.7% to 22.7m teu. In contrast, most major US container ports saw slower growth, hindered by seasonal adjustment in the first quarter, flagging consumer spending and protectionist policies.

Throughput of major container ports in the Americas grew just 4.8% to 8.3m teu in the first quarter. Among the major ports, only Port of Long Beach and Port of Santos saw good growth while throughput at Port of Vancouver, Port of Virginia and Port of Montreal saw a slight increase, and those of Port of Los Angeles, Seattle-Tacoma and Houston all suffered declines.

Overall global dry bulk throughput surged as industrialization of emerging markets and developing economies accelerated and infrastructure development boomed in the Asean economies, SISI noted.

While the iron ore trade fell, coal volumes rose. China’s iron ore imports fell slightly to 270.4m tone but overall global iron ore throughput fell 5.3%. Adverse weather at the key Australian export terminal of Port Hedland and high inventories were blamed for the falls.

Strong market demand in China and India meanwhile drove stable growth in Australia’s coal exports, while US coal export volumes also grew rapidly as a result of policy incentives. Overall coal throughput of global ports continued to rise, SISI noted.

Read More: Global port volume growth remains intact in Q3

In liquid bulks, the world's major ports were polarized, as Asian storage and refining hubs such as Singapore and Korea saw declining throughput while China and Europe continued to see growth.

Liquid bulk throughput in Singapore fell 7.7% to 55.5m tons due to a seasonal downturn in marine fuel oil demand and excess fuel oil inventories in the Middle East. South Korea’s throughput decreased by 1.0% to 100.8m tons as a result of a tighter crude oil supply.

In contrast, China’s imports grew 7.0% in the first quarter and spiked 21.4% in March especially after the government allowed local refineries to import crude oil. The expansion of strategic inventory reserves and a decline in domestic crude oil production also boosted China’s imports.

Liquid bulk cargo throughput at major ports in the Americas and Europe such as Port of Rotterdam, Port of Barcelona ​​and Port of Santos, meanwhile maintained steady growth, SISI concluded.

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