Containerized imports to major North Europe ports dropped by nearly 7 percent in the fourth quarter and are expected to rise less than 3 percent in the current quarter, according to the North Europe Global Port Tracker report.
“Austerity and trade growth do not mix, as 2012 is not shaping up to be a good year, or at least the first half is not,” said Ben Hackett, founder of Hackett Associates, which produces the report with the Bremen Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics.
Europe’s recession is dragging down container shipping revenue along with port traffic. Ship lines are trying to raise rates to overcome losses on the world’s busiest trade lane for container shipments. For instance, Maersk Line said a 19 percent drop in Asia-Europe rates was largely to blame for the carrier’s $602 million loss last year.
“With demand weak and capacity continuing to come on stream with larger vessels entering service, it is hard to see how the carries can push through their announced rate increases unless they begin to lay up ships,” Hackett said.
He said austerity and the euro’s fiscal pressures on the euro zone’s financially weaker nations have pulled the continent into recession.
“Containers flowing through North Europe’s ports are clearly linked to consumer spending and input to industrial production, and these flows react very quickly to changes in economic policies,” he said. “The squeeze on disposable income is having its effects on consumption. That is the price of austerity.”
The North Europe Global Port Tracker said export volumes rose 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 but are expected to drop by a nearly identical level in the first quarter. For all of 2012, imports are expected to increase by less than 3 percent while exports increase 5 percent.