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Greenfield projects back in favour with terminal operators

Capex increased 31% in 2021 but operators now face challenges of longer lead time for equipment & rapidly rising costs.

Greenfield projects back in favour with terminal operators
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Representational Image. Credit: APM Terminals

Global container port capacity is projected to increase by an average annual rate of 2.4 percent to reach 1.38 billion TEU by 2026.

"However, the worsening economic and geopolitical situation has led to a downgrading of the cargo demand outlook, and as a result container port utilisation is now projected to moderate to 70 percent in 2025 compared to last year's projection of 75 percent," according to Drewry's latest Global Container Terminal Operators Annual Review and Forecast report.

Widespread container shipping trade recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has boosted the global terminal capacity outlook, supported by global terminal operators' (GTOs) increased appetite for higher-risk greenfield projects to deliver long-term growth, the report said. "While the majority (70 percent) of GTO investment plans remain focussed on existing assets, there has been a notable increase in the number of greenfield projects – with CMA Terminals, Hutchison and TIL all expected to add 4 MTEU or additional greenfield capacity by 2026."


Eleanor Hadland, author of the report and senior analyst for ports and terminals, Drewry's, says: "The renewed appetite for greenfield projects shows improved confidence in the market outlook. However, the ability of CMA Terminals and TIL to secure volume guarantees from CMA CGM and MSC gives these companies an advantage over non-carrier affiliated operators."

Global supply chain disruption resulted in increased cargo dwell times in 2021 which generated additional storage charges, lifting terminal operators' revenue growth above that which could be justified on the basis of volume recovery alone, the report said.

"Once global supply chain disruption eases, which is now expected in 1H23, there is heightened risk that revenue gains will retreat as dwell times return to pre-pandemic levels," says Hadland.

Capital expenditure bounced back in 2021, rising 31% YoY but operators now face the twin challenges of longer lead time for handling equipment and rapidly rising costs, the report said. "Drewry's research also identifies that the pace of fundraising has slowed since 2020, with rising interest rates putting a brake on the market."

Rewind 2021
The number of companies that qualified as GTOs fell from 21 to 20 with K Line dropping out of the rankings following the sale of its U.S. operations in 4Q20. "Growth in equity-adjusted throughput for the remaining 20 companies classified by Drewry as GTOs was 7 percent, marginally higher than the 6.8 percent growth in global port handling recorded in 2021. The leading operators handled over 48 percent of the global port volumes on an equity-adjusted basis, stable on a like-for-like basis vs. 2020."

APM Terminals, a part of the Danish carrier A.P. Moller-Maersk, reported the largest absolute increase in annual equity-adjusted volumes at 4.7 MTEU (10.3 percent), the report added.

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