2019 now offers +4%
The year may be just two months old; the thoughts of the maritime consultancy Drewry on the sector’s further progress this year are already running at full speed, however.
The growth rate for container ports and terminals worldwide in 2019 will come to a ‘mere’ 4%, according to a forecast published by Drewry. Although this rate represents 0.7% less in comparison with the firm’s previous growth prediction of 4.7%, it is still very respectable. Ultimately this represents a total increase globally of more than 30 million teu year-on-year. But – and this is the big but – the forecast is even more uncertain than predictions usually are, because of the ongoing Sino-US trade conflict and Brexit, amongst many other things.
Investment a key uncertainty
Investors and port operators are likely to plan more cautiously this year. Since returns will no longer be as rosy as before, more prudence is to be expected with regard to investment in port facilities and their capacities. Even Chinese players may be affected, if the national economy slows down, with projects in new locations likely to be the area that is hardest hit. Nevertheless, investments of around USD 7.5 billion, which represent a capacity increase of more than 25 million teu in maritime gateways, would still be realistic, Drewry said.
The good news for ports is that the size of containerships will not continue to grow. Although the capacity for the number of boxes per ship could continue to increase, this will have hardly any influence on the physical size of freighters. However, the cascade effect should not be underestimated. Every port will see increasing pressure on those of its berths that can handle the biggest ships. Older berths will tend to become obsolete faster.
The opportunities offered by digitalisation, automation, blockchain technology and the like are being closely monitored by terminal operators and port authorities, to make sure they select the best e-solutions. The same applies to expanding their activities beyond the gates of the port compound and into the wider supply chain, to try and diversify sources of revenue, tie in traffic and get closer to cargo owners. However, this is a rather crowded field, as everyone has the same interest.
Good overall prospects for the segment
Despite these challenges, Drewry said, the global container terminal industry will remain a very solid and profitable business. The London-based company expects global maritime trade to generate more than 800 million teu of freight throughput for the industry in 2019, which will generate an ebitda of more than USD 25 billion.