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Asia-Europe trades to remain sluggish

While global container growth shows signs of recovery, Asia-Europe trades will likely be behind the pack, the Container Supply Chain conference at TOC Europe hears

Developments in the critically important Asia-Europe trades provided much of the focus of Day 2 of TOC Europe 2015 in Rotterdam.

Michel Looten, Director, Maritime, Seabury Group noted that deepsea containerised growth in 2014 returned to a relatively healthy state, with exports from Asia the main driver. China’s export growth alone was responsible for almost 50% of all teu growth last year.

However, Asia to Middle East and Indian Subcontinent (ME/ISC) trades are still growing faster than Asia-Europe. In fact, with the exception of Spain and Poland, Looten said all major destinations on the Asia-Europe trade are expected to see a slowing of growth over the coming five years.

The relative importance of the Asia to ME/ISC corridor has almost doubled since 2000, growing from 27% of westbound volume growth then to 46% in 2014. This growth is likely to continue and will require carriers to rethink their strategies on the entire Asia-Europe corridor, Looten believed.

This tepid outlook for Asia-Europe was confirmed by Jesper Praestengaard, Senior Advisor, Boston Consulting Group & Chairman of the Board aty Unifeeder.

He noted that the GDP multiplier is shrinking and flattening global container demand growth is the new reality for all players. Between 2003 and 2007 this multiplier had averaged 2.2, i.e, a 1% increase in global GDP growth generated 2.2% growth in global teu demand.

However, following the financial crisis the multiplier slipped to x1.4 from 2010-2014, and BCG forecast it to fall back to x1.3 over 2015-2019.

The main reasons for this flattening, he continued, are a slowing down in the global shift of production – the big trend towards off-shoring was largely a one-time effect – and a flattening degree of containerization.

There is also a risk of increased reshoring, particularly in North America as manufacturing moves back to the continent to exploit the erosion in offshoring’s cost advantage.

Meanwhile, higher relative growth in backhaul and intra-regional trades are requiring less incremental vessel capacity. For example, Asia-Europe backhaul growth over 2014-2019 is projected to show a 6.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), compared with headhaul CAGR of 4%. For transpacific trades, the respective forecasts are 6.2% and 4.4%.

Shorter intra-regional trades should also show more growth than Asia-Europe, he said. Intra-Asia, for example, could grow 6.1% over the same period.

The end result, he predicted, is that oversupply in container capacity will likely continue until at least 2019, and freight rates will remain on a long-term downward trend, exhibiting annual declines of 1.6% to 2.6%.