China - Mainland cargo exports forecast to stay buoyant

China - Mainland cargo exports forecast to stay buoyant

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Mainland cargo exports forecast to stay buoyant
Shipping industry optimistic despite weak economic indicators

Keith Wallis
Aug 04, 2010

The shipping industry has shrugged off concerns about a possible severe downturn in cargo export volumes from the mainland following last month's decline in manufacturing output.
Peter Sand, a shipping analyst with the Baltic and International Maritime Council, which has about 1,000 international shipowners as members, said: "Volumes will remain at current levels throughout the third quarter, or they may be up a bit. But we have seen very strong volumes already in the second quarter and I foresee this to be the absolute peak in the peak season."
His views were echoed by Stephen Ng Siu-kow, a director of corporate planning at Orient Overseas Container Line, who said that despite the softening of the mainland's purchasing managers' index and other indices last month, "we have not seen any impact yet" on the number of containers aboard its ships on the mainland.

"We remain optimistically cautious that the strong demand may have been driven by inventory level changes and not necessarily consumer demand. While the full effects of the debt crisis in Europe are yet to be seen, overall we are positive for the remainder of the year and into 2011," Ng said.

He was commenting as parent company Orient Overseas (International) (SEHK: 0316) was expected to report revenue of about US$2.5 billion for the first six months of this year when it announces its interim results tomorrow. Virtually all this revenue came from its box line subsidiary OOCL and OOCL Logistics and would compare with almost US$2.07 billion in the first half of last year.

Sand said container ships in terms of loaded capacity were leaving mainland ports at utilisation levels of about 95 per cent.

"China may not post a new export record in July, but the foreign trade data looks strong from a shipping point of view," he said.

He added that after a record volume of exports in June which topped US$137.4 billion, a forthcoming reduction in export tax rebates could "erode the competitiveness of some Chinese goods in combination with a stronger Chinese currency". As a result, export volumes could fall in coming months.

This would follow a fall in the PMI, which dropped to 51.2 last month, according to figures released on Sunday by the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing. This was the lowest level for 17 months and followed a 52.1 reading in June.

Ng said that while there was more space available on container ships leaving ports in central and northern China, OOCL thought this was due to extra ships being deployed on routes rather than any fall in demand.

He pointed out that by comparison the volume of export cargo from southern China "was still going strong".

Other box carriers have indicated brighter prospects this year.

These included China Shipping Container Lines (SEHK: 2866), which said it had returned to profit in the first half of this year after a 3.4 billion yuan (HK$3.89 billion) net loss between January and June last year. The firm did not quantify the size of the profit pending the release of its interim results in the next few weeks.

China Cosco Holdings (SEHK: 1919, announcements, news) , which controls Cosco Container Lines, also said it would return to the black in the first half after plunging into the red with a 4.6 billion yuan net loss in the same period last year.

Sand said container freight rates from China to Europe had rebounded in the past three weeks, while container rates to the US West Coast have climbed about 20 per cent since April.
But he warned that it was uncertain if freight rates would continue to maintain their gains because the increased supply of new vessels coupled with an easing in consumer demand would negatively affect rates.

"The normal third-quarter peak season may not be strong enough as global consumers still hesitate to go on a shopping spree at the malls," Sand said.

in Copenhagen, DK

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