Ship with containers

Christmas may be cancelled for some container operators enduring flat volumes instead of the usual autumn surge as retail customers remain cautious about stocking up for the gift-giving season.

Roadways Container Logistics MD Nick Matthews is not expecting a reversal in the coming months. “Christ-mas in the container industry comes early in the year; typically September, October and November. September has not seen a significant increase on prior months and some of the largest shipping lines are not predicting much change.

“I believe the outlook for the rest the of the year is going to be flat and I would not like to hazard a guess as to what that means for next year.”

Andy Packer, container division commercial manager at Turners (Soham), said: “I would describe it as flat. There’s certainly no sign of volumes increasing and the advice we are getting from the shipping lines is that there is not an increase in cargo expected in the near future.”

Their experiences reflect a decrease in container volume movements between Asia and Europe. According to industry data provider Container Trades Statistics, July container trade from Asia to Europe fell 13.2% year-on-year.

Martin Dixon, business development manager at Drewry Shipping Consultants, said: “It’s safe to say container imports into the UK will be poor and will probably show a contraction compared with last year. Driving that is weak retail sales. You can’t read too much into one month’s data but trade is weak and we are expecting to see a further contraction.”

Flat volumes are having an effect on hauliers. “We are fortunate that we have other business apart from containers with different peaks. But in the container division we are not planning to increase the number of trucks in the near future,” said Packer.

Matthews added: “We plan our trucks programme around the busy months and anticipated there would be some growth. We’ve recently bought 50 new vehicles in anticipation of increases, so we are talking about releasing the older vehicles, whereas we would normally hold onto them for the following part of the year.”