Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

SA’S BULK export volumes fell 4.9% year on year (y/y) in August to 12.6-million tons after dropping 15.4% in July to 11.6-million tons and rising 6.2% in April to the second-highest monthly total of 16.2-million tons, data from the Transnet National Ports Authority showed on Monday.

The record monthly tonnage of 16.4-million tons was achieved in January 2015.

The July drop was due in part to the closure of the coal line between Mpumalanga and Richards Bay for annual maintenance from July 11 to July 24.

On average, 230,000 tons a day is railed down the corridor, but export orders can be filled from the stockpile at Richards Bay Coal Terminal during maintenance.

Maintenance is normally done in May, but it was shifted to July this year at the request of coal miners with overseas coal demand seasonally weak due to the Northern Hemisphere summer.

The June and April y/y increases of 3.4% and 6.2% were the only two y/y rises in the first six months of 2016 after declines of 6.1%, 11.7%, 15.7% and 12.2% in May, March, February and January respectively. This followed a 7.3% increase in 2015 to a record annual tonnage of 168-million tons.

Despite the June and April y/y increases, total bulk exports are still down 7.5% y/y in the first seven months of 2016.

Bulk exports out of Richards Bay, which are mostly coal, fell 16.9% y/y in August to 6.4-million tons after plunging 18.5% y/y in July to 6.2-million tons from 6.9-million tons in June and rising 8.2% in 2015 to 93-million tons.

As Richards Bay Coal Terminal no longer releases operational statistics, economists are finding it harder to track economic performance in SA in a timeous way.

Despite the 40% plunge in the iron-ore price in 2015, bulk exports out of Saldanha, which are mostly iron ore, rose 12.7% in 2015 to 63.4-million tons, but in July 2016 there was a 17.8% y/y fall to 4.3-million tons before a 12.1% y/y rise in August to 5.1-million tons.

The surprise in the August data was the 11.5% y/y rise in bulk exports, which are mostly grains and sugar, from other ports such as Durban to 1,048,320 tons after falling by 19.3% in 2015 to 11.6-million tons.

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