Apparent calm at Rotterdam may disguise underlying change

The Port of Rotterdam appears to have had a stable if uninspiring first half of 2013, with volumes declining 0.9% compared with the same period last year; whilst revenues were flat. The port blames the modest fall on markedly lower oil shipments, although looking at the figures in detail other sectors also showed weakness.

Container traffic in Rotterdam was down 2.2% year-on-year as measured in tonnage, although in terms of TEU’s (twenty-foot equivalent units) the volume increased 1%. Rotterdam attributed this difference to “the persisting economic malaise in Europe”. However, the port also admitted that its feeder traffic to the Baltic is suffering due to competition from the north German ports; although Mediterranean short-sea volumes rose by 5%. In addition, volumes have also been hit by the shift to more direct port calls by shipping lines.

Rotterdam’s vital oil trade saw tonnage fall by 8.7%, which it blamed on a combination of maintenance activities at the port refineries and low economic growth in Europe. Coal volumes were up by 13% as European electricity generators took advantage of cheap American coal, but liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments collapsed by 70% reflecting the re-orientation of the gas market to East Asian economies which are willing to pay a premium. Roll on-roll off (Ro-ro) volumes increased by 2%; however Rotterdam complained about a lack of business from the UK, despite both automotive output and sales in Britain growing in double-digit percentages.

Underneath an apparently subdued performance, these results hint at some significant changes in the logistics geography of Europe. Certainly, the loss of container business in the Baltic to the German ports must be regarded as a danger sign for Rotterdam not only as the region has consistently shown robust growth, but also as it might suggest a weakness in serving Central European supply chains. This could be a serious issue for Rotterdam as the German economy is increasingly integrating itself with its Eastern neighbours and any loss of competitiveness in serving its core German customers would be a threat to its position as Europe’s leading port.

Additional information regarding volumes at the Port of Rotterdam can be found via Ti’s Dashboard facility. Click here for more information.