After suffering declining volumes for most of last year, Hong Kong port saw its first year-on-year growth in container throughput in December, leading some analysts to predict a strong recovery, though others are more cautious. Container throughput in Hong Kong, the world's third-largest container port, grew 3 per cent year on year to 1.84 million twenty-foot-equivalent units (teu) in December, a 4.4 per cent increase from November, the Hong Kong Port Development Council estimated. December was the first year-on-year increase in container throughput since October 2008, when the financial crisis battered the global shipping industry. For the whole of last year, Hong Kong's container throughput fell 14.6 per cent to 20.93 million teu, the lowest level in the past six years, according to the Hong Kong Port Development Council. The Pearl River Delta, a leading source of exports to the United States, enjoyed the strongest rebound among mainland regions in December with a 14 per cent year-on-year growth, according to a JP Morgan report by Karen Li and Edmond Lee. The Port of Long Beach on the US west coast, a major recipient of shipments from Hong Kong and the mainland, reported an 8.7 per cent year-on-year rise in container throughput in December 2009, its first year-on-year increase since December 2007. Long Beach posted a 13.4 per cent year-on-year rise in import-laden container shipments last December, while exports of laden containers soared 30.9 per cent year on year and the number of empty containers fell 14.8 per cent year on year. Ally Ma wrote in a Citi report: 'With China's exports returning 18 per cent growth in December 2009, China's foreign trade containers grew 10 per cent (in December). This underpins our view that China's export growth could reach 20 to 25 per cent in the first half of 2010.' Ma predicts the growth of China's exports could beat the market expectation of 20 per cent in the second half, boosted by a recovery in consumption in developed markets. JP Morgan said: 'With recovery under way, we expect volume gains to expand in the first half of 2010. It is conceivable that port congestion may occur in China in some locations towards the end of 2010 or early 2011 if the current recovery trend continues.' It said average container throughput of mainland ports would rebound 20 per cent in the first quarter, with the Pearl River Delta having the highest growth at 30 per cent. Sunny Ho Lap-kee, executive director of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council, was more cautious. 'Manufacturers tell me orders have not changed. They still have no orders for after June. Importers are refraining from placing long-term orders,' Ho said. Normally at this time, exporters in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta would receive orders going beyond June, he said. Ho attributed the surge in December's exports to last-minute orders placed in small volumes that required urgent shipment. 'It's still uncertain for the second half of 2010,' he said.