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The world’s biggest container terminal operator, Hutchinson Port Holdings Trust (HPH Trust), claims the outlook for global trade “remains positive”, although it has concerns about protectionism and geopolitical tensions.
The Singapore-based trust, reporting its first-quarter trading, said: “2018 is set to be a transformative year for the global shipping line industry, driven by shifting economic trends and trade flows in conjunction with the consolidation of ownership.”
It said it expected investment in expansion and modernisation of port facilities would continue as shipping lines pursued their strategy of deploying ultra-large container vessels to drive down unit costs.
It added: “Focus has shifted from port performance to supply chain performance to enhance competitiveness and operational efficiencies.”
HPH Trust said it also expected more emphasis on security in the wake of the increased threat of cyber-attacks on companies.
Turnover at HPH Trust in the first three months was up 3%, year on year to HK$2.7bn (US$344m) after a 5% uplift in throughput at its global terminals to 5.6m teu.
Combined throughput at the HPHT Kwai Tsing complex, comprising Hong Kong International Terminals, COSCO-HIT Terminals and Asia Container Terminals, was up just 1% on Q1 17, whereas at China’s mainland Yantian International Container Terminals, volumes jumped 8.7%, driven by growth in transhipment and empty container business.
HPH said outbound shipments to the US had “continued to grow in the first quarter by 2%”, while export cargo to the EU was flat.
On the bottom line, net profit in Q1 was up 12% on the same period of 2017 at HK$421m ($54m).
HPH and its container terminal operator rivals are facing increased pressure from container lines desperate to cut costs to mitigate the impact of a three-pronged hit of freight rate pressure, higher fuel costs and increased charter vessel hire costs.
Moreover, with the liner industry experiencing further consolidation, terminal operators are seeing merged or acquired new entities challenge handling charges on the basis of the cheapest rate applicable to an individual carrier, and look for rebates due to the new combined volume.