Slight pick-up in HK port traffic fails to impress

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 August, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong's port traffic last month was a definite improvement on June, but analysts warn that they have yet to see a significant pick-up in the world's third-busiest container port.

Container throughput in July rose 7.7 per cent to 1.93 million 20-foot equivalent units (teu), according to an estimate from the Hong Kong Port Development Council.

The figure was still down 14.5 per cent year on year. However, it was a slight improvement on the 15.6 per cent fall in June and a stronger performance than the 23.6 per cent decline registered in January.

Measured on a daily basis, average throughput in July was 62,000 teu, 4 per cent higher than June, said JP Morgan analyst Karen Li.

'Some people are celebrating the monthly improvement, but the daily improvement was nothing special,' said Ms Li.

'Obviously, things are stabilising, especially for the container trade. Trade is stabilising but we haven't seen a real recovery yet. Hong Kong's July figures look slightly better, but compared to people's expectations, this is a slight disappointment.'

The difference between the daily and monthly figures can be attributed to the fact that July has one day more than June, skewing the figures slightly.

The months of June, July and August are traditionally important shipping months for Hong Kong and mainland export ports, said Willy Lin Sun-mo, the chairman of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council.

'Probably until September, Hong Kong's numbers will be similar to July's. We have to wait till October and November. Unless there is a significant upswing in the US economy, October and November will remain weak,' said Mr Lin.

'There is no excitement in sales in the US and Europe yet. We have not seen a lot of star products, which everyone says they must have. Consumer confidence in the US and Europe is still not there. People just don't want to spend their money.'

The US consumer confidence index declined to 46.6 last month from 49.3 in June and above 50 in May, according to a recent report by Conference Board, a US think tank.

'Hong Kong's July throughput is in line with what we see in China's ports,' said Nomura International analyst Jim Wong.

The container throughput of China's eight biggest ports fell 6.9 per cent year on year in July, better than the 11 per cent drop in the second quarter and the 13 per cent fall in the first quarter, said Mr Wong. 'It's definitely an improvement in China, as for Hong Kong.'

In July, container throughput at Shanghai, the mainland's biggest port and the world's second-biggest container port, was 7.5 per cent higher than in June, according to official data.

However, when measured on a daily basis, Shanghai's average throughput was 69,000 teu, which was only 3 per cent higher than in June, said Ms Li.

'[Shanghai International Port Group, Shanghai's port operator,] told me they were disappointed with Shanghai's July figures,' she said.