Box volumes see strong recovery.
Latest figures from the European Liner Affairs Association, for January, show a strong recovery in container volumes to and from Europe on most trades compared with the same month in 2009, the lowest point in the downturn.
That caveat aside, two other reports showed encouraging volume growth involving disparate trades.
US container ports are expected to report a 13% jump in inbound volumes in March, according to the latest forecast from the monthly Global Port Tracker report, compiled by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates. The report also predicts double-digit monthly increases to last until September, as the US pulls out of the recession.
Separately, imports from containerised traffic soared as a percentage of all China"s imports from 2008 until yearend 2009, according to a report by the Seabury consulting group.
The ELAA figures furnish evidence that the beginning-year rebound in volumes is especially robust. On the biggest trade, between Asia and Europe, westbound traffic increased by 10.6% compared with a year earlier to 1.13m teu, higher than any single month in 2009. Eastbound traffic grew even faster by some 34.9%, although the volume is much lower at 418,800teu.
The most dramatic change was the 98% increase in eastbound container volumes from the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea to Asia, suggesting a recovery in economic activity in a region that was particularly hard hit by the global economic and financial crisis.
There was also a significant jump in traffic to and from the Indian sub-continent, rising 20.5% eastbound and 13% westbound year-on-year, but the eastbound figure was 20% down on a month earlier in December.
The transatlantic route showed more modest growth, with 6.9% eastbound and 4.5% westbound. Interestingly, this meant container volumes in each direction in January were almost identical, reflecting the effect of exchange rate trends in reducing previous imbalances.
The one exception to the overall growth was northbound traffic from Australasia, which declined by 21.4% from January 2009, though southbound traffic increased by 12.2%.
Rising volumes and continued control of capacity helped generate a recovery in freight rates. ELAA"s Aggregated Price Indices showed continued recovery in rates, especially on the Asia-Europe trade, with eastbound rates going above the level of 2008, while other trades are seeing a more gradual though apparently firm rate restoration.
The Global Port Tracker figures cast an optimistic light on US import volume and potential recovery in the world"s largest consumer market. The report estimates that US ports handled 1.08 teu in January, the latest month for which actual numbers are available. This was down around 1% from December, reflecting the expected pinch after the holiday season, but up 2% from January 2009.
?These numbers show that retailers continue to anticipate improvements in the US economy,? said National Retail Foundation vice-president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold.
Forecasts of a US recovery still remain in the realm of speculation. However, the China figures offered by Seabury suggest a sustained shift toward consumer market growth in China.
The report showed containerised import volumes into China climbed 11.4% in 2009 versus 2008. This occurred during a period when China"s containerised ocean traffic fell by 9%, with exports falling by 16.7%.
Containerised exports have accounted for well over 70% of China"s total exports for years until 2009 when they declined to 67%.
The rise in volume in 2009 has helped stimulate revive major exporters into China, particularly those in Europe. The figures indicate that China"s consumer market has been buoyed by its $586bn stimulus package, and present the tantalising possibility that market is edging toward a long-awaited period of sustained growth.