BMI View: We forecast positive growth across South Africa's ports in 2015, following a decline at many facilities in 2014. There are risks to this outlook, however. Although a fall in the price of oil has the potential to increase household consumption, this benefit will be largely offset by ongoing currency depreciation. Unemployment and negative sentiment also remain high. Demand will be far from robust, but it will nevertheless not see a dip. In terms of gross tonnage volumes, coal will continue to be the primary driver of growth, although the slowdown in China does present some risk to this.
Headline Industry Data
Richards Bay Port tonnage throughput in 2015 is forecast to return to growth at 0.3% following a decline in 2014. Over the medium term to 2019 we project a 1.9% average annual increase.
Port of Durban container throughput is forecast to grow by 2.5% in 2015. Growth will average 3.2% per annum in the medium-term forecast period to 2019.
2015 total trade growth is forecast at 4.0%, and will average 4.1% per annum to 2019.
Key Industry Trends
Durban Silting Up: The port of Durban is silting up, and this threatens dry bulk handling at the port. Shipping stakeholders have been concerned over insufficient dredging at the facility, and in May, port manager Moshe Motlohi confirmed that sand was coming into the entrance channel, forcing the authorities to narrow it for ships coming in. While the port is adamant the silting up is not a threat for shipping companies, should the problem be allowed to escalate it could cause them to look elsewhere.
Ongoing Labour Disputes A Challenge: There has been increasing labour unrest in South Africa over the past several years and since the Marikana massacre in particular. This will affect volumes exported through South African ports. The issue is also affecting the shipping sector fundamentally. In April this year, there was a brief labour dispute at the port of Durban as workers unhappy with the shift pattern - agreed to in 2011, according to port manager Moshe Motlohi - went on strike. Should there be further industrial unrest, our growth forecasts would be challenged.
Transnet Plans Hub Ports To Cut Shipping Costs: Transnet plans to set up hub ports in order to accommodate larger vessels and cut down shipping costs. Port charges at South African ports are currently among the highest in the world, with tariffs at the port of Durban 874% above the global average for containers, according to a 2012 study by the Ports Regulator of SA. Transnet plans to dredge the entrance channels and berths from 14 metres (m) to 15m at the Durban port, which has been recognised as the country's first hub port. Another port - Ngqura - in the Eastern Cape, has been identified as a potential hub port, according to Transnet General Manager for Corporate Strategy Irvindra Naidoo. The required investment in infrastructure will push up port costs, but be offset by a reduction in shipping costs, Naidoo noted.
Key Risks To Outlook
The key threats to our outlook for South Africa's shipping sector are external. South Africa is acutely exposed to the global headwinds facing the world economy, in particular the eurozone crisis and the economic slowdown in China. Ongoing labour disputes in the mining and ports sectors also present a risk.