Container shipments from Europe to East Coast South America reclaimed dominance in 2017 as they broke a three-year losing streak by registering first annual growth since 2013.
The southbound trade achieved a volume increase of 12% in 2017 to reach 850,000 TEU, shipping consultancy Drewry said citing figures from Datamar.
Split by region of export, growth from the smaller Mediterranean market was strongest, rising by 15% to 250,000 TEU, while North Europe exports to ECSA increased by 11% to 600,000 TEU. North Europe exports ended the year stronger than the Med, rising by 14% in the fourth quarter, versus 9%.
That pattern carried into 2018 with Datamar statistics for January showing buoyant growth from both regions with North Europe at a rise of 20%, just edging ahead of the Med which saw an increase of 17%.
The turnaround in the southbound market was sufficient for it to eclipse the reefer-oriented northbound trade for the first time since 2014. Despite a better performance in the second half of the year, driven by fruit exports to the Med, the northbound trade was only able to muster annual growth of 0.4%, giving a final tally for 2017 of 830,000 TEU.
Drewry added that the start to this year was mixed as Datamar numbers show that trade to North Europe slipped by 2.5% year-on-year in January, while growth to the Med was much lower than the double-digit rates experienced since June, rising by 6% in the first month of 2018.
The figures for January continue the recent trend, whereby the southbound leg appears to have plateaued at a very healthy 12%, while the northbound leg is slowly creeping into positive territory.
Available capacity on this trade has been reduced slightly by the suspension of two seasonal services in February and early March from CMA CGM and Maersk, both designed to tap into the more lucrative northbound reefer market.
Drewry estimates that capacity on both legs will be 4% lower in April than it was in the same month last year.
“Such a situation should enable some minor uplift in spot rates, which have been fairly static out of Europe and fast rising out of Latin America.”