Rotterdam and Antwerp see good growth in containers

Despite all of the pessimism about global trade and the German economy, the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp seem to be prospering.

The latest numbers for Rotterdam show a year-on-year rise of 6.4% in container throughput for the six months to June, with the whole port seeing a rise of 4.8% when measured in tonnage. In turn, this resulted in a 7% increase in profits to €134.8m. Trades such as oil and gas experienced a minor boom, with shale-gas imports from the US leading to a 94% rise in LNG related activity.

Perhaps the container trade results are not quite as strong as they first appear. The Port of Rotterdam said that transhipment accounted for a substantial proportion of the rise in volume including the repositioning of containers for movement back to Asia. However good underlying demand for imports was a significant factor as well.

Certainly the port’s management is not getting carried away, with its CEO Allard Castelein, commenting that “relations between the world’s major trading blocs remain strained. There is also ongoing uncertainty about the introduction of trade tariffs post-Brexit. Both developments are rendering the prospects for the further growth of world trade uncertain. Given the global uncertainties mentioned here, the Port of Rotterdam Authority expects a slight weakening of the growth in cargo throughput in the second half of 2019”.

The strength of these numbers is also reflected in the performance of the neighbouring port of Antwerp, which also reported growth in the first half of 2019 of 4.9% year-on-year. It claims that transhipment traffic with Asia grew at 11.7% over the same period. Part of the reason for the growth of both ports is gains in market-share in the Hamburg – Le Havre range, however this cannot explain all of the expansion.

Possibly these numbers suggest that the downturn in trade has been focussed on certain areas, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, as well as routes elsewhere that feed into those regions such as exports from Germany. It is notable that Rotterdam and Antwerp are reporting increases in volume despite what appears to be a sharp recession in German exports. Traditionally German trade has been a key market for both ports.

The news is not all good though. It is clear that both ports are struggling with congestion in their landside transport, with both ports looking to rationalise truck movements and investing in new rail infrastructure.

Source: Transport Intelligence, July 30, 2019

Author: Thomas Cullen