China Merchants Group

Slower growth in China port throughput worries China Merchants

Declining pace of growth in port throughput and export market uncertainties worry firm

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 5:15am

Slowing growth in mainland terminal throughput in May and uncertainty about global export markets in the second half are worrying Hong Kong-based port operator China Merchants Holdings (International).

Growth at mainland container ports slowed to 7.6 per cent in May from 9.4 per cent in April, the transport ministry in Beijing said on Monday.

Throughput growth in the first five months of the year slowed to 9.2 per cent.

Speaking after the firm's annual general meeting yesterday, China Merchant's vice-chairman, Li Jianhong, said it would be problematic if throughput slowed further in the third quarter.

Hong Kong container trade contracted 10.5 per cent year on year in May after a 12.2 per cent contraction in April, partly because of a strike by dock workers.

"The biggest uncertainty is volatility in mainland port volumes," said deputy managing director Zheng Shaoping.

Some think recent port throughput figures were skewed by fabrications that boosted cargo growth figures. Exporters may have faked trade by trucking goods to bonded warehouses in order to receive tax rebates. Goods in bonded warehouses are considered to have already passed through customs.

Li said he had noticed some fabrication of exports but that bonded warehouses had followed the law.

In the first five months, China Merchants handled 9.2 per cent more container cargo than a year earlier, boosted by ports in northern and eastern regions. Throughput at its Western Shenzhen port dropped 2 per cent year on year in the first five months.

The company is pinning its hopes on its overseas ports, including those in Sri Lanka and Nigeria.

"We think the new ports will offset the slowdown in the mainland," Li said, adding that their throughput would increase 10 per cent this year. The firm expects throughput at its overseas ports to rise to 30 per cent of the firm's total throughout within a few years from its current 10 per cent.

The firm is eyeing further acquisitions. It bought port assets from French shipping company CMA CGM in December last year. It has also purchased ports in the African country of Djibouti.