Volume at China’s top ports expanded in double digits in February, driven by a strengthening global trade environment and continuing robust performance by China’s economy.

The top eight ports — which deal with the majority of international container trade volumes — handled 11.9 million TEU in February, a 10.7 percent jump from the 10.7 million TEU handled during the same month last year.

Year-to-date volume at the end of February stood at 26.3 million TEU, nearly 2 million TEU more than the first two months of 2017.

China’s exports grew at the fastest pace in three years in February, rising 44.5 percent in value terms, while imports grew 6.3 pecent. China government data indicated that combined January to February rose by 24.4 percent year over year.

Concern about possible US-China trade war
Optimism from the strong February trade and container volume data is heavily tempered by deteriorating trade relations between the United States and China, with the risk of a global trade war looming large.

US President Donald Trump Thursday is expected to announce $50 billion in tariffs on imports from China over intellectual property violations. The measures are expected to target imported Chinese goods in up to 100 categories and would likely result in retaliatory tariffs from China on its imports from the United States.

The February ports data show that — with the exception of the eastern coastal port of Xiamen, where year-over-year February volumes fell by 90,000 TEU — all of the country’s top eight ports showed an expansion in volumes handled.

The top performers were Shanghai, the world’s busiest container port, where volume rose by an impressive 11.3 percent; and the Shenzhen port complex, which registered a volume increase of more than 35 percent to 1.8 million TEU, according to data from the Shanghai Shipping Exchange.

Hong Kong February volume fell
Preliminary figures from Hong Kong’s Port and Maritime Board show February volumes through the port of Hong Kong fell by 5.7 percent. The drop was felt most acutely in the barge trade portion of the trade, which serves shipments to and from the Pearl River Delta.

IHS Markit’s Caixin China manufacturing index increased to 51.6 in February, from 51.5 in January, showing continued expansion in manufacturing activity.

“Though only modest, the latest reading signaled the strongest improvement in operating conditions for six months,” the report said.

However, a sub-index that measures new export orders showed slowing growth from a January reading of 52.4 to 52.0.

“In contrast to the trend for total new orders, new export work increased at a softer pace in February. Furthermore, the respective index pointed to the weakest upturn in new orders from abroad since last November.”

Manufacturers surveyed said they had positive expectations towards the 12-month outlook due to new product releases and expectations that client demand would continue to improve over the coming year.

At the end of February, IHS Markit lifted its 2018 and 2019 real GDP growth forecast for China to 6.7 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively, a rise of 0.1 percent in both cases.

The global research company said the forecast upgrade reflected the robust momentum of China’s economy.