Future Cities

2022 Global Seaport Review

Navigating evolving global seaport regions and their impact on industrial real estate

December 13, 2022 10 Minute Read


Key takeaways

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Explore Major Global Seaports

This report looks at major and emerging seaports to explore and understand their capabilities and inter-connectivity around the globe, as well as the impact and influence they have on nearby industrial real estate markets.

  1. Strong demand for industrial real estate worldwide
    E-commerce growth, coupled with the need to hold more inventory to protect against supply chain disruptions, is fueling demand for industrial and logistics properties—especially those with transportation links to seaports.
  2. High transportation costs influence site selection
    Transportation costs account for the largest share of a company’s total logistics costs, between 45% and 70% of total spend, according to CBRE Supply Chain Advisory. This compares with 3% to 6% for fixed facility costs like rent, and 15% to 25% for variable facility costs such as labor. To help minimize transportation costs, companies are targeting facilities near ports of entry, including seaports.
  3. Seaborne shipping increasing
    International shipping is growing, with TEU volumes climbing 36.5% over the past decade. More than 80% of the world’s merchandise trade by volume is seaborne, of which over half is shipped in ocean containers.
  4. Heightened risks shape strategies
    Ongoing risks—including inflation, rising interest rates, geopolitical tensions and possible temporary port closings or lockdowns due to the pandemic—are prompting industrial investors and occupiers to reevaluate supply chain strategies and locations.

Logistics drivers and seaports as logistics hubs

Demand drivers for logistics property

The industrial and logistics sector is experiencing record demand as companies expand their real estate footprints to keep up with rising e-commerce sales and diversify supply chains to prevent disruptions and control inventories.

Figure 1: Key drivers of logistics demand

Source: CBRE Global I&L Outlook, November 2022.


Increase in global e-commerce sales over the past five years.

Source: CBRE Global E-Commerce Outlook 2022.

Companies are enhancing their distribution capabilities to protect inventories from global supply chain disruptions, like those caused by the pandemic, as well as fallout from other issues, such as congestion and closures at ports, blockages along key shipping routes and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

To address these challenges, companies are locating their facilities near global transportation hubs, especially seaports. These hubs drive industrial real estate markets and are typically at the center of large clusters of logistics distribution facilities. Seaport-adjacent facilities also provide value-added services such as production, storage, customs clearance, packaging and processing for the enormous volume of cargo moving throughout the global supply chain.

Figure 2: All markets witnessed an acceleration of e-commerce sales during the pandemic

Source: CBRE Global I&L Outlook, November 2022.

By 2026, 1.7 billion sq. ft. to 2.2 billion sq. ft. (160 to 200 million sq. m.) of additional e-commerce dedicated logistics space will be required globally to support internet sales.

Source: CBRE Global E-Commerce Outlook, June 2022.

Seaports as major global logistics hubs

Seaports have evolved over the decades, with the adoption of container shipping, the diversification of cargo types and equipment, better intermodal transportation of containers and advancements in port technologies. Today, major seaports typically connect to geographically concentrated and mutually related business facilities centered around transportation, trade, and industrial production and distribution. Global seaports distribute on a very large scale, often via Panamax container ships able to hold at least 5,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

A TEU, or 20-foot equivalent unit, is the dimension of a standard shipping container (20 feet long and eight feet high and wide) and is generally used to determine the cargo capacity of container ships and terminals.

Container volume trade increase

Trade volumes are growing rapidly amid an increasingly global consumer landscape. Between 2012 and 2021, global TEU volumes grew 36.5% to approximately 850 million TEUs. More than 80% of world merchandise trade is currently seaborne, of which more than half (by value) is shipped in ocean containers.

Long-distance transocean trade routes, along with a new class of post-Panamax container ships (vessels able to carry more than 20,000 TEUs), enable shipping companies to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce costs.

Figure 3: Container throughput worldwide has increased considerably over the last 10 years

Source: Statista, April 2022.


of world merchandise trade by volume is seaborne

What are the risks to global supply chains?

Global supply chain pressures

In January 2022, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York introduced a new measure, the Global Supply Chain Pressure Index (GSCPI), to gauge supply chain conditions by combining several transportation and manufacturing metrics, including delivery times, pricing and inventory. The GSCPI data set tracks activity back to 1997.

Following some fluctuations prior to 2020, the GSCPI surged at the beginning of the pandemic amid strict lockdown measures. The index fell briefly during the summer of 2020 when world production started to recover, before rising again at a dramatic pace as the omicron variant spread worldwide.

Supply chains were pressured in 2020 and 2021 because of a surge in online spending amid a backdrop of capacity constraints, equipment shortages, renewed virus infections in some parts of the world (including at the critical Yantian Terminal in Shenzhen, China) and a one-week closure of the Suez Canal, when the 1,300-foot Ever Given container ship was temporarily trapped due to strong winds, preventing other vessels from passing through. Many of these factors continue to cause instability in the supply of key materials and components for global industrial production.

Figure 4: Global Supply Chain Pressure Index and major supply chain disruptions

Note: The Global Supply Chain Pressure Index (GSCPI) combines variables from several indices in transportation and manufacturing, such as those related to delivery times, prices, and inventory, to measure supply chain conditions. A measurement above zero indicates more supply chain pressure than usual, while a reading below zero indicates less pressure.
Source: CBRE Research, Macrobond, Federal Bank of New York, Q3 2022.

Container shipping costs surge

The rising cost of shipping has greatly impacted companies engaged in global distribution. Though ocean shipping rates are falling, they remain much higher than pre-pandemic levels. According to the Freightos Baltic Index, which represents a weighted average of spot shipping rates for a 40-foot container across 12 major global routes, rates steadily increased after COVID-19’s onset and skyrocketed following the Suez Canal blockage. Rates rose from $1,400 at the end of March 2020 to $11,100 in September 2021, before settling down to a still-elevated $3,450 as of mid-October 2022.

Figure 5: Container-shipping costs were affected by prolonged supply chain disruptions

Note: Global Container Freight Index represents the market rate to ship a 40-foot equivalent (FEU) container.
Source: Freightos, October 2022.

Ocean shipping rates are at $3,450 as of mid-October 2022, up from $1,400 in March 2020.

According to estimates from maritime data provider Lloyd’s List, $9.6 billion worth of trade was held up daily because of the Suez Canal blockage, topping $50 billion by the time the canal was cleared. However, this figure excludes the broader impact to trade and economies globally, as commodity prices increased because of the uncertainty.

As a result, ports had to simultaneously deal with both scheduled and delayed ships, adding more stress on the global shipping system. The blockage occurred amid pandemic-induced labor shortages in U.S. ports and COVID-related disruptions in Chinese ports, and coincided with a surge in demand for manufactured goods, pushing up shipping rates.

While costs have fallen as consumer demand stabilizes and port activities normalize, they are still significantly above pre-pandemic prices. The United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that elevated container freight shipping costs will add 1.6% to consumer prices globally in 2023.

Elevated container freight costs will add an estimated 1.6% to consumer prices globally in 2023.

Transportation large part of logistics costs

Transportation accounts for 45% to 70% of total logistics spend, according to CBRE Supply Chain Advisory. This compares with 3% to 6% for fixed facility costs, including rent, and 15% to 25% for variable facility costs, including labor. In other words, it pays for companies to locate distribution infrastructure as close to ports as possible—even as still-high shipping rates fall—as the savings on transportation costs can materially benefit occupiers of industrial real estate.

Figure 6: Logistics costs

Source: CBRE Supply Chain Consulting, H1 2022.

It takes roughly an 8% increase in fixed facility costs to equal the impact of just a 1% increase in transportation costs.
Joe DunlapManaging Director CBRE Supply Chain Advisory

What are the ongoing key risks to watch?

While there have been signs that supply chain disruptions eased earlier in 2022, there are several evolving economic and geopolitical challenges:

  1. Inflation and rising interest rates

    Inflation is a worldwide problem, with headline inflation driven by surging energy prices.
  2. COVID restrictions in China

    As of November 2022, the Chinese government is considering changes to its zero-COVID policy. This could create a short-term spike in infections, which could reduce mobility, impede manufacturing activity and disrupt supply chains.
  3. Continued port congestion

    U.S. ports could become congested again as there is a growing risk of labor negotiations leading to walkouts over pay. Natural weather-related occurrences also can heavily impact port operations, causing temporary closings at ports and possible roadway flooding.
  4. The war in Ukraine

    Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affected maritime trade, as commodity origins had to be rerouted. Further port disruptions caused by the conflict, particularly in Northern Europe, are adding more demands on warehousing and storage capacity, placing upward pressure on costs. The war is also impacting other intermodal routes, including airfreight transportation across Asia-Europe trade routes that would usually travel through Russian airspace, and the disruption and rerouting of overland rail links from China to Europe.

With global supply chain pressures expected to continue into 2023, it’s essential for companies to build adaptable and resilient distribution solutions. This is driving increased demand for warehouse space, particularly in well-established and emerging seaport locations, creating opportunities for industrial and logistics property owners and investors.


Major global ports

Global port city map


Source: CBRE Research.


Historical TEU volumes across major ports

*Fiscal year
CBRE Research; UNCTADSTAT Port Liner Connectivity Index.

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