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Global liner growth projections built on low volume comparisons

Early projections for this years liner shipping growth may be prejudiced by the slow growth that the global economy experienced over the past two years, making potentially distorting comparisons.


Chief analyst at Xeneta, Peter Sand warned that the statistics on growth for the first two months of this year were being compared to the same period of 2023 which was a low growth period. These weak volumes and an underlying overcapacity are being masked by the Red Sea crisis, which has absorbed much of that excess tonnage.


Sand told Container News that Xeneta expects global growth to be limited to around 2.5%-3% this year.


The fact that we are not even talking about the EU ETS shows that it has been dwarfed by other factors,said Sand, who added, We are not going to see a full year [2024] that will continue in the same way as the first two months of this year.


Xeneta also believes that when the global volume figures from Container Trade Statistics are published next week they will most likely change the complexion of the global market again.


Sand's comments followed the publication of consultancy MSIs monthly report for April which is projecting significant growth in global liner shipping for 2024.


MSI research showed demand data for the first quarter of 2024 showed strong year-on-year growth across the boardin both mainline and non-mainline trades, with MSIs global throughput index rising to its highest level in three years, reaching 113.05 in February, which shows a synchronised volume rebound around the world.


However, MSI did concede that 2023 volumes were weak and that this would have an effect on the projections for this year. Last years soft trade on the Pacific westbound to the US west coast meant that growth in these trades was expected to be seen this year, however, the USWC bounce has been greater than anticipated said MSI.


US imports from East Asia grew by an impressive 30.4% in February and 23.6% in 2M 24 [the first two months of this year]. Moreover, port data in March continued this strong performance,said MSI, which noted that imports in nine of the top ten US ports increased collectively by 18.4% year-on-year.


Vancouver and Prince Rupert volumes followed the same pattern with a 24.9% boost year-on-year.


In addition, MSI said that resilientconsumer spending and low inventories, coupled with a rebound in the US housing market will drive further growth.


We have now upgraded our forecast for this trade notably and expect full-year growth of 7.5% in 2024,said MSI.


Sand, however, pointed out that The Pacific trade fell two years in a row, including by 4.4% in 2023, so growth of 7.5% may not bring the Pacific eastbound trade back to 2021 levels.


Asia to Europe trade growth has also seen a bounce, but with high growth rates in the second, third and fourth quarters of last year MSI expects that bounce to be nipped in the bud.


February this year saw 17.8% growth in European trade volumes, year-on-year, and 11.5% in the first two months but with sluggish GDP and consumer spending growthin western Europe MSI forecasts only a 4.2% growth in the Asia to Europe trades this year.


Conversely, exports from Europe to the US appear to have turned around with the first growth in a year recorded in February, 7.0%, MSI forecasts a marginal growth in the Atlantic trade in the first quarter, but that his growth of around 5.5% will be sustained throughout the rest of 2024.


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