Almost all Malaysian container ports are poised to record good growth this year, based on current statistics of containers throughput and stable economic activities.
But the rosy outlook is not without any pockets of concern, with the slowing down of the country’s economy due to external influence a worry.
The Malaysian economy grew 4.6% in the first quarter, marginally missing the 4.8% forecast by most economists.
The Transport Ministry reported last Tuesday that Malaysian ports had handled a total of 8.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) for the first five months this year, up 10.9% from the same period last year.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha said among the notable ports that registered positive growth were Port Klang and Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP).
Port Klang and PTP retained its position as the world’s top 20 container ports last year at number 13 and 17 respectively.
The Maritime Institute of Malaysia senior fellow Nazery Khalid told StarBizthat the increase in throughput was not only a reflection of an improving global economy and rebound in international trade, but also stood as testimony to the efficiency and productivity of the ports in attracting cargoes even in leaner times.
“One can say Malaysia is blessed with strategic location, being at the heart of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. However, we also have to be mindful that there are many ports in these areas with equally good infrastructures and services like Malaysian ports, if not better.
“Competition to attract cargo is stiff, and for Malaysia to have recorded impressive throughput growth in the first five months of 2011 is a commendable performance that says much about the competitiveness,” he said.
Nazery partly attributed the growth to growing intra-Asean trade and transshipment trade, the latter thanks to the relentless momentum of China’s economic growth.
“At this rate, and if the global economy continues its slow but steady recovery, our ports should exceed the volumes handled in 2010.
“However, competition for cargo is ferocious. Our ports not only have to compete with one another for a not-too-large slice of domestic cargo but also with up-and-coming ports in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
“Then, there is also competition with other transport modes in vying for cargo. With the double-track railway in the picture, I foresee rail giving our local ports a run for their money,” he said.
An analyst from a local brokerage said ports in the country would most probably sustain or increase its growth momentum based on the export targets of RM700bil this year from RM639.4bil last year according to the International Trade and Industry Ministry.
Import value was at RM529.2bil last year, up 21.8% from 2009.
But the analyst also cautioned that despite the positive outlook, the momentum of economic growth was expected to slow down in the second quarter due to the impact of the devastating earthquake in Japan and social uprising in the Middle East and North Africa.
This positive development in the port industry contradicted the dilemma faced by most shipping companies as freight rates continue to be battered by an excess of supply.
According to CIMB Research, despite the gloomy rate environment, containership newbuilding orders have zoomed ahead, with over a million TEUs ordered year-to-date from about 700,000 TEUs last year.
“This has tilted the equilibrium negatively and supply is now expected to grow faster than demand in 2012 and 2013, it said in a recent report.
Last year, according to axs-alphaliner.com, the worldwide reference in liner shipping, global container throughput hit a new record of 560 million TEUs.
“The highest growth was posted by Chinese ports which grew by 17.9% last year, followed by South American ports which grew by 17.6%
“Forty-eight of the top 50 ports registered volume gains in 2010, with only two suffering minor losses. An average growth of 15% was recorded by these main ports,” it said.
Going forward, axs-alphaliner.com said that for this year, growth was expected to moderate to 8.4% as volumes returned to more sustainable levels, with Chinese ports again expected to lead the gains this year.