Shenzhen container growth fuels trade recovery hopes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2009, 12:00am

The strong growth in container shipments last month at Shenzhen port has led some analysts to believe that a solid recovery of the mainland's international trade is under way, although others remain cautious.

Container throughput at Shenzhen grew to 1.8 million 20-foot equivalent units (teu) last month, up 19 per cent from July, according to a JP Morgan report by Karen Li and Edmond Lee.

Shenzhen's throughput of laden containers - those carrying goods - rose 13 per cent last month from July, Ally Ma wrote in a Citi report.

The daily run rate at Shenzhen was 59,000 teu, higher than the 47,000 teu from May to July and 44,000 teu in March and April, JP Morgan said.

'Shenzhen's performance in August is quite eye-catching. The improvement is real,' said Li. She said in Shenzhen East, container throughput rose 18 per cent month on month, more than the 7 per cent rise in Shenzhen West.

Given that Shenzhen East serves mainly the United States, while Shenzhen West serves mainly Europe, 'the recovery in China's trade is probably driven by the US', Li added.

At the end of last month, US rail traffic, an indicator of the country's economy, had been rising over the past several weeks to its highest level since mid-December, according to the Association of American Railroads.

'China's purchasing managers' index has stayed above the 50 threshold [indicating increasing factory production] for four months in a row [to August], suggesting a decent recovery in export growth,' the JP Morgan report said.

Mainland sectors where manufacturing increased, with the PMI above 50, included computers and telecommunication equipment, according to JP Morgan.

However, output of textiles, garments, shoes and leather goods - the major export items made in the Pearl River Delta served by the Shenzhen port - declined, with the PMI below 50 last month, the report said.

'Is Shenzhen's recovery real?' said Sunny Ho Lap-kee, an executive director of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council. 'Who can tell? But it seems confidence is coming back.'

The improvement in throughput could be partly explained in that traditionally, August's shipments were higher than July's, Ho said.

As for Shanghai, China's busiest port, container throughput was 2.17 million teu last month, down 15 per cent year on year, which was bigger than the 9 per cent decline in July, Ma wrote.

Shanghai and Shenzhen, China's two biggest ports, account for half the country's international container shipping trade.

The difference in performance between Shanghai and Shenzhen was partly due to a typhoon in the first 10 days of the month that affected Shanghai's shipping, Credit Suisse analyst Ingrid Wei said.

'If there was no typhoon, Shanghai's performance would have been better in August,' she said.

In another sign of improvement, rising shipments have enabled shipping lines to charge more.

The freight rate for China-Europe trade had quadrupled to more than US$1,000 per teu from as low as US$250 three months ago, Ho said.

Most major shipping lines imposed a US$500 increase per 40-foot equivalent unit container on transpacific routes since August 13, he said.