OCEAN carriers operating between Asia and North America last year had to reposition 1.2 million TEU more than the year before because of widening trade imbalances, says Drewry Maritime Research.
"Carriers should expect additional empty container repositioning costs from the widening east-west services trade gap," said the London research house, reported Lloyd's Loading List.
In 2015, there were 2.2 TEU moved for every one backhaul TEU in the Asia-Europe, transpacific and transatlantic lanes, said Drewry.
Between Asia and Europe (including the Mediterranean) the amount of repositioning decreased by about 600,000 TEU, but the total remained high at 7.8 million TEU.
The aggregate ratio was below x2 until 2014. For individual trades, the widest gap exists on the Asia-WCNA route at x2.7, up from x2.1 in 2012.
The north-south trade lanes had a faster backhaul growth, reducing overall trade imbalance to x2.07 in 2015, from x2.14 in 2014.
Again there are significant variations between the trades; for example the southbound Asia to West Africa leg dominates the return voyage by a ratio of over x4, while in Europe-ECSA, the two legs are virtually identical with the northbound leg overtaking the southbound route by x1.03 last year.
The biggest drag on volumes has been the backhaul on the east-west routes, according to Drewry.
Return traffic in 2015 was lower than it was in 2012 by some 200,000 TEU. Over the same period, east-west headhaul volumes have added 4.5 million TEU, while the aggregate north-south volumes have added 2.2 million TEU headhaul and one million TEU backhaul.
Said Drewry: "This suggests that Asian importers are looking to broaden their sourcing origins to regions such as the Middle East and South Asia away from North America and to a lesser extent Europe."
Source : HKSG.