German ports bear the brunt of world trade slowdown

Germany’s two largest container ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven-Bremen have reported declining container throughput year-on-year for January-September 2015.

The Port of Hamburg handled 6.7m TEUs, a decline of 9.2%. Its core trade areas of North East Asia and the Baltic region particularly suffered, with volumes down by 14.0% to 2.43m TEUs and 22.4% to 1.38m TEUs respectively. Among its top 10 trade partners, volumes were down virtually across the board. Trade with China (including Hong Kong) plummeted by 14.9% to 1.95m TEUs and with Russia by 36.0% to 0.32m TEUs.

Chinese volumes appear to have slumped due to two main reasons. Obviously, the country’s economic growth slowdown is one major factor, but improved handling capabilities at rival ports also appear to have shifted volumes away from Hamburg. The Port of Antwerp, for instance, is having a strong year, with throughput related to Asian trade up by 6.2% in the first nine months of the year. Hamburg port executives urged that dredging works were essential to encourage more calls of ultra large container ships in the face of “intense competition” from competing ports.

The collapse in Russian trade was attributed to “a weak rouble, the low oil price and the generally continuing economic recession in Russia.” More encouragingly, a port executive intimated that the slide in Russian volumes had bottomed out. Axel Mattern, Executive Board Member of Port of Hamburg Marketing remarked, “We assume that container throughput with Russia is now stabilizing and that perhaps the first signs of an upward trend will be apparent next year.”

At Bremerhaven-Bremen, far less performance detail is available, but it is clear that container handling volumes have struggled. For the first nine months of the year, throughput of 4.2m TEUs was recorded, a contraction of 3.7%.

Elsewhere on the North European range, Rotterdam recorded a 1.0% increase in container throughput over the same period, while Zeebrugge’s volumes have declined to 1.20m TEUs.

Overall, container throughput at Northern Europe’s core ports is more or less on a par with 2014, possibly even very slightly down year-on-year. Such figures accord with other anaemic trade numbers that continue to materialise. For example, Maersk now expects global demand for seaborne container transportation to increase by 1-3% in 2015, down from its previous expectation of 3-5% announced in its Q1 2015 report. Perhaps most worryingly of all, the OECD’s latest economic outlook warns that global trade growth will be just 2% in 2015, down from 3.4% last year. The dramatic warning that followed was that such rates were very close to those “associated with global recession.”