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Drewry paints positive picture for demand growth at global container ports

LONDON-based consultant Drewry forecasts that world container port throughput will increase by 240 million TEU, from about 745 million TEU at present to 985 million TEU by 2020.

The medium-term outlook for global container port demand growth "is positive thanks to strong underlying economic momentum across the world's major economies," said Drewry in its Global Container Terminal Operators Annual Review and Forecast 2018.

The analysts' latest five-year container port demand forecast is based on average global growth of six per cent per annum.

"The global container port industry is now of such a scale that six per cent annual growth equates to around 45 million additional TEU each year, broadly equivalent to the size of the world's largest container port, Shanghai," said Drewry.

The port terminal industry experienced growth of three to four per cent per annum between 2012 and 2014.

"It looked as if that would be kind of the way it was going to be for the future. But then the last couple of years it's really picked up again into sort of the five-six per cent growth band. It's sort of had a second lease on life and our latest projections reflect that," said senior analyst Neil Davidson.

However, Mr Davidson noted that owners of container terminals and investors are taking a cautious approach.

Drewry said, "Bottom-up capacity projections on a terminal-by-terminal basis present a more conservative picture, with global container port capacity projected to increase by around 125 million TEU by 2022, a growth rate of just over two per cent per annum. This is clearly well below projected demand and reflects the cautious investor sentiment towards greenfield projects over the last few years."

As a result, Drewry is projecting average terminal utilisation globally "to increase significantly from 68 per cent in 2017 to 80 per cent by 2022. Average regional utilisation levels are projected to increase most sharply in Greater China, North Asia, Southeast Asia and west coast South America".

Mr Davidson cautioned that utilisation may be higher at particularly popular terminals or terminals designed to accommodate the largest ships.

"All the capacity is not the same," he said, adding that there are fewer terminals that are large enough, have deep enough berths and cranes to handle the very largest containerships.

He said that is not a big issue today. Whether it becomes one in the future will depend on the investments terminal operators make.

Traditional port operators have "become very cautious in terms of expansion," he said. "The exception to the rule has been the Chinese players, who have remained very bullish and aggressive and buying assets and building more capacity. A lot of the new capacity that's around or coming on stream is driven by Chinese investors and Chinese money."

Mr Davidson said the kind of returns that were being generated five to 20 years ago from the terminal industry are very different from what they are today. That has led to a change in attitude by the traditional terminal operators and "over time will lead to a change in the nature of the investors in the industry."

Source - Shipping Gazette

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