Container throughput at Hong Kong's Kwai Chung container port is expected to see negative growth this year - the first time in two decades - due to the weak United States economy slowing Chinese exports. The last time Hong Kong recorded negative growth was in 1978, when container volumes fell to 1.22 million teu (20 ft equivalent unit) from 1.26 million teu the year before. 'Hong Kong port will probably record a total negative growth this year while Shenzhen port will still continue to grow strongly,' said Hutchison Port Holdings managing director John Meredith. He expected this weakness in Hong Kong to continue until the US economy recovered. But the good news is that Hong Kong, which handled 18.1 million teu last year, will this year retain its role as the world's premier container port. Singapore, which last year handled 17.08 million teu, stays in second place. Pusan and Kaohsiung follow, about 10 million teu behind Hong Kong and Singapore. Hong Kong Port and Maritime Board figures show throughput was down 1.1 per cent year on year to 5.4 million teu in the half. Throughput at Kwai Chung terminals is expected to fall dramatically in the second half. Maersk Sealand has shifted its New Zealand service from the temporary berth at Modern Terminals, where it moved after leaving Singapore last October, to Malaysia's Tanjung Pelepas. Modern Terminals was the only operator to record positive growth, up 14 per cent to 1.5 million teu in the first half. Throughput declined at Hongkong International Terminals, the largest operator, CSX World Terminals and Cosco-HIT. January throughput of 906,000 teu was down 4 per cent, partly because of the Lunar New Year holidays. February volumes were up 4 per cent to 763,000 teu, picking up further to 969,000 teu in March, a 5 per cent gain. The slack started in April when throughput dropped to 934,000 teu, up a scant 1.9 per cent, and continued in May when the 893,000 teu shifted was a drop of 7.4 per cent. Volume rose to 917,000 teu in June, but this was down 4.2 per cent on last year's performance. Analysts predict Hong Kong's total throughput could drop by 4 per cent to 6 per cent this year, depending on how US and European economies fare. Container terminals account for 60 per cent of Hong Kong's throughput while the balance is handled by mid-stream operators and the river trade terminal. Despite container truck drivers blockading mid-stream operators' yards at Kwai Chung for five days in February and several slow-drive protests from the port to the busy Central district, port officials said that mid-stream throughput figures registered bigger growth than last year. In Singapore the PSA Corp expects its volumes to slump by about 10 per cent this year, hit by the global slowdown and the defection of Maersk Sealand. 'Global trade has slowed down quite a bit so our volumes have also slowed down,' PSA chairman Yeo Ning Hong said. 'I think in the first few months we're seeing drop of 12 per cent to 13 per cent. 'We are maybe looking something close to negative 10 per cent, but we have six more months to go.' A 10 per cent drop for the year as a whole would see PSA's domestic volumes at about 15.3 million teu this year. PSA blames the global economic slowdown as the main cause of the sharp decline. 'This time the US economy is coming practically to a halt, the Japanese economy is believed to be in a recession, and the Europeans appear to be growing very slowly. 'At PSA, our business is really plugged into global trade cargo going from East Asia on to Europe and the US and vice versa,' Mr Yeo said. The PSA began feeling the effects of the slowdown as long as 12 months ago with volume growth slowing in the second half of last year, and the year's volume growth standing at 7.2 per cent, after achieving 12.8 per cent in the first half. However, the PSA is not blaming its throughput plunge entirely on the global economy, acknowledging that Maersk Sealand's shift of 1.8 million teu in trans-shipment volumes to Malaysia had worsened the situation. 'Obviously the relocation of a major customer didn't help at all, so these are the multiple factors. They all come together in a bad year and compounded the problem,' Mr Yeo said.