By end-December, exports from Asia to Northern Europe spiked to 805,000 TEUs (20-foot-equivalent units), 20 percent more than in November, followed by a further 14 percent increase in January, up to 915,000 TEUs, according to Drewry Maritime Research data.
The heavier-than-expected cargo volume rise appeared to have been spurred by shippers not wanting to have their cargo bookings rolled in January. December’s traffic brought the total for the year up to 9.1 million TEUs, 1.5 percent more than in 2012, “underlining Europe’s continuing slow climb out of recession,” said Drewry.
Exports of containerized cargo from China alone to Western Europe increased by 2.5 percent, up to 18.8 million tons, while shipments to Eastern Europe rose by a healthier 4 percent, up to 9.2 million tons.
This led to westbound vessel capacity increasing by 2.5 percent in December, up to 841,500 TEUs, followed by another 1 percent hike in January and a 3 percent reduction in February.
“All eyes are now on the way westbound cargo will falter after the Chinese New Year because what ocean carriers gained before will presumably be lost in February and March, as there has been no miraculous increase in Europe’s economy,” Drewry predicted.
“According to industry sources, the cargo roll-over pools built up in January were already gone by the middle of February.”
On the eastbound lane, cargo from Northern Europe to Asia fell from 366,000 TEUs in November to 347,000 TEUs in December partly due to shippers not wanting goods to arrive during the Chinese New Year holiday. By January, shipments were back to 368,000 TEUs a month, the same as during October and November.
This took the total for 2013 to 4.5 million TEUs, which was just 2 percent above 2012. Asia has had many economic difficulties, so the result is unsurprising, but there have been other problems, said Drewry. The United States has consistently been beating Northern European suppliers of scrap paper and plastic waste to the punch in China, with Northern Europe’s market share falling from 43 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2013.
Photo: Jim Bahn