Citing estimates from global shipping industry forecaster Alphaliner, The Wall Street Journal headlined earlier this week that global ocean container traffic grew at the slowest rate since the global recession. This provides more evidence of structural change in global shipping patterns and volume needs.
Alphaliner is forecasting that container traffic for all of 2015 will grow by a mere 0.8 percent, the smallest increase since 2009. Traffic among the top 30 ports reportedly declined by 0.9 percent in the third quarter, a quarter that should have reflected robust shipping related to fourth quarter holiday sales. Our readers might recall that entering 2015, lines such as Maersk Line were anticipating upwards of 3 to 3.5 percent growths in 2015 volumes.
The WSJ indicates that ship owners and operators have idled more than 1.3 million TEU’s of shipping capacity and cites one shipping analyst as indicating that a sustainable level of freight rates for 2016 could amount to upwards of 2 million TEU’s of idle capacity.
Interesting enough, ports such as New York, Hi Chi Minh City and Port Kelang, Malaysia experienced double-digit percentage growth. That reflects evidence of changing global supply chain sourcing strategies underway.
In 2014, and again in 2015, one of our annual predictions called for turbulence in global transportation, particularly in ocean container shipping. Prediction Three of our recently published 2016 Predictions for Industry and Global Supply Chains calls for continued change for an ocean container segment that remains bloated by declining global demand with resultant overcapacity. Industry consolidation will continue and a shipper advantage will prevail in terms of rates. Shipping advisory firm Drewy has already warned that industry overcapacity imbalance would extend over the next 2-3 years. The added deployment of newer, larger super vessels has already led to added port congestion and bottlenecks among the world’s busiest ports and that condition will continue in 2016.
Just before the Christmas holiday, the labor union representing dockworkers at the Port of Rotterdam, one of Europe’s busiest ports, voted unanimously to a strike action in the coming weeks. Dockworkers at Rotterdam are seeking multi-year job security in the light of highly automated container terminals.
Indeed, 2016 will be a year of continued turbulence in ocean container shipping. Industry supply chain teams and transportation providers should plan accordingly with backup risk mitigation if required.