Unitised Traffic Report Q3 2023
The volume of RoRo traffic at Republic of Ireland ports declined by 2% to 291,879 units in the third quarter of 2023 when compared to the same period in 2022. Traffic to ports in Great Britain and ports in mainland Europe both fell by 2% each. All three Irish RoRo ports – Dublin, Cork and Rosslare Europort – recorded a decline this quarter. For RoRo traffic, July and August are relatively quiet months, as the holiday season is in full force. September however, is a busy month, with volumes typically 3% above average as preparations begin for the pre-Christmas period. In September 2023, volumes declined by 5% when compared to 2022.
In all, the volumes recorded in Q3 2023 are slightly below trend for the Irish RoRo market, whereby the long term trajectory of volumes are roughly 300,000 units per quarter. Passing 1.2m RoRo units for the full year, as was achieved in 2022, is now unlikely, but shipping operators and ports will be hopeful that the busy months of October and November can recoup some of the losses from this year.
In the LoLo market, traffic declined by 6% to 277,60 TEU’s. For each of the three Irish LoLo ports, this is the lowest third quarter performance of the post-Brexit era . The long term trajectory of Irish LoLo traffic is between 290,000 – 295,000 TEU’s per quarter. The latter half of 2022 and the first three quarters of 2023 has been a difficult period for this sector, with volumes generally below trend.
In Northern Ireland, RoRo traffic performed strongly in Q3 2023, as volumes rose by 3%. In the LoLo sector, traffic was roughly equivalent to Q3 2022. This is a resilient performance from Northern Irish ports in the face of difficult economic headwinds.
For Irish unitised traffic (i.e. RoRo and LoLo), the predominant factor driving declines in 2023 has been high inflation and interest rates, coupled with heightened geopolitical uncertainty. Higher prices, higher borrowing costs, and greater uncertainty serve to suppress demand for finished products such as those transported by the unitised shipping sector.
Irish unitised traffic is sensitive to domestic demand indicators such as Irish consumption levels, GDP and modified domestic demand. On all three measures, the outlook is positive for 2024 in Ireland, as the Central Bank predicts increases of more than 2%. Internationally, the outlook is mixed. The IMF recently described the global economic outlook as ‘stable but slow’, with global growth expected to fall from 3.5% to 3% in 2023, and 2.9% in 2024.
This characterization by the IMF is reflective of the performance of the global container market, a useful bellwether for the global economic outlook. Clarkson’s Research predicts European container exports to both Asia and North America to decline in 2023 by 6% and 10% respectively in 2023. Intra-regional container trade in Europe is expected to decline by 6%. These indicators are highly relevant to Irish ports, as this global containership network is essential for Irish importers and exporters to access international markets.
Overall, resilient domestic demand is offsetting difficult global economic conditions. Irish ports have recorded declines in Q3 2023, but have held on to the gains made in recent years, avoiding steep declines in traffic.
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