Port of Hamburg suffers more than others in Q1

In contrast to its rivals in Belgium and the Netherlands, Hamburg port has suffered badly in the first quarter of 2020. The port blames the COVID-19 crisis.

The volume of containers handled fell by 6.6% year-on-year, to 2.2m TEU. In particular trans-shipment traffic fell heavily, down 10.8% to 772,000 TEU. Direct calls were less badly hit. Although traffic to and from China dropped by 14.6% year-on-year to 579,400 TEU, American trades were buoyant with a 20.7% rise in volumes led by four new container services from American East Coast ports. Similarly, traffic with Singapore was healthy, with a 10.5% rise to 111,000 TEU, although this apparently reflected shifts in traffic from elsewhere in Asia.

Bulk trades were also lower, with an 11.9% fall despite an 11.9% rise in the exports such as grain and fertilizer.

The container numbers certainly reflect the status of global trade in February and March when large parts of the Chinese economy effectively froze. What it doesn’t do is show the impact of the crisis on the western world. This is surely likely to be more painful for Hamburg.

Yet questions ought to be asked about the comparative performance of Hamburg as compared to its rival container terminals in Rotterdam and Antwerp. The Belgian port, in particular, did well in the early part of the year with a 9.5% rise in container volumes and despite also suffering from a fall in trade from China. Rotterdam did not do quite so well, but even so, container traffic was down only 4.7%.

Axel Mattern, Joint CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing commented that he hoped that “from June, it is entirely possible that with a gradual pick-up in the economy in China and Europe, we shall be seeing an increase in sailings and rising volumes on port throughput and seaport-hinterland services”. This may be true, although the European and North American economies are now in a fierce recession which they were not in the first three months of the year. The likelihood is that volumes will deteriorate in the second quarter. Hamburg also has to be careful that it does not continue to lose market share to other ports such as Antwerp.

Source: Transport Intelligence, 19 May 2020

Author: Thomas Cullen