The slowdown in container volumes handled by ports in northern Europe indicates the continent may be slipping into a deeper recession than anticipated, according to the latest North Europe Global Port Tracker.
“There is little, if any, growth compared to 2011, and by the end of third quarter we are predicting volumes to begin to enter a more serious downturn,” said Ben Hackett, of Hackett Associates, which produces the report with the Bremen-based Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics.
The report forecasts deep-sea imports will increase 2.3 percent in 2012, with a 2.8 percent gain anticipated in North Europe and a 1.3 percent gain projected in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region. This is substantially weaker than in 2011.
North European imports in the first quarter were virtually unchanged from the fourth quarter of 2011, but they were down 2 percent from the same quarter of 2011.
First quarter exports increased nearly 6 percent year-over-year, but fell 1 percent from the fourth quarter.
The report said European trade would be hit even harder than expected if this trend continues.
Global Port Tracker forecasts total European exports will increase 4.7 percent in 2012, with a 6.7 percent gain anticipated in North Europe and a 0.5 percent dip projected in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region.
“The risk, however, is that if China’s economy continues to weaken, exports will be hit hard,” the report said.
“The partial collapse of the euro will lead to a recession that may take years to come out of unless new economic policies can be introduced that will generate trade, something that is extremely hard to do in an environment of high sovereign debt and an unstable banking system,” Hackett said.
Changes in government in many of the eurozone countries may lead to growth policies, but only if German policy can be changed ahead of next year’s elections. “We cannot be sanguine about filling the new capacity coming on stream nor of reducing the operating losses of the carriers, certainly not in 2012 and probably not before 2014,” Hackett said.
The report projects a 5.8 percent gain in total moves over the coming six months at six major container ports in North Europe, compared with a 7.9 percent increase in the same period in 2011.
Incoming loaded containers are projected to increase at a faster rate than outgoing containers over the six-month period, with a 6.4 percent anticipated gain versus a 5.9 percent increase. Year-over-year gains are forecast in five of the six coming months and all four of the next quarters. Incoming volumes are forecast to increase 3.3 percent in 2012.
Outgoing volumes are projected to grow 7.5 percent, with increases projected in four of the coming six months, while year-on-year gains are anticipated in each month except May. All four upcoming quarters for outgoing cargo are projected to post single-digit year-over-year gains.
The regional growth disparities also have an impact on the growth potential in the six North Europe ports. “While Germany and France still cling to a few decimal points of growth, Belgium and the Netherlands are in recession,” said Sonke Maatsch of ISL. “The German ports are heading for a remarkable growth of about 7.5 percent thanks in part to the still solid German economy, market share shifts and the strong growth in Central and eastern Europe.”
The report said Antwerp is set to post a solid growth as it is benefiting disproportionately from growing exports.
Rotterdam, by contrast, will end the year in decline if it does not make up for the market share it lost during the past quarters. The same is true for Zeebrugge whose market share dropped below 5 percent for the first time since 2007.
Global Port Tracker said Le Havre may post growth of more than 9 percent, but the gain is exaggerated by a base year last year that was marked by strikes and market share losses.