The U.S. economic recovery has not brought as much container volume growth as expected, according to an Asian transportation report by Jefferies, a global investment banking firm.
In the first half of 2013, U.S. container volume growth continued to track below retail sales growth, a reversal of the relation of the two, as container volume used to grow at multiple times U.S. retail sales in the past, Jefferies said.
Import volume through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which Jefferies uses as a proxy for the eastbound volume of trans-Pacific trade, has risen 2.1 percent year-over-year in the first six months of 2013, compared with Jefferies’ expectation of a 4 percent year-over-year increase for fiscal year 2013. Meanwhile, retail sales increased 4.8 percent year-over-year in the first half of the year.
Jefferies said that Asian exports have diminished as a result of less outsourcing of manufacturing to Asia, as well as more in-sourcing and near-sourcing. Moreover, Mexico has gained market share over China for U.S. imports.
New trans-Pacific contracts suggested that freight rates in the last few months may have increased by $50 to $75 per 20-foot-equivalent unit, or 5 to 10 percent, compared with previous contracts, despite container lines’ original intent to increase by $400 per TEU. Surplus capacity as a result of 6 percent additional capacity deployment in trans-Pacific trade, relative to just 2 percent volume growth, has put pressure on freight rates, Jefferies said.