South Africa's bulk export volumes rose by 7.3% in 2015 to a record 168 million tons (Mt) after only a 2.6% rise in 2014 and a 2.8% gain in 2013.
Policy uncertainty and logistics constraints meant that South Africa lost out on the 2003 to 2008 commodity price boom with annual bulk exports increasing by only 2.8 Mt between those two years. Since then there has been better logistics co-ordination between mining companies and state-owned Transnet, so that volumes have improved by 45% or 52.3 Mt between 2008 and 2015.
Bulk exports out of Richards Bay, which are mostly coal, grew by 8.2% in 2015 to 93 Mt. Between 2003 and 2009, exports from Richards Bay actually fell from 78.2 Mt in 2003 to only 69 Mt in 2009.
Bulk exports out of Saldanha, which are mostly iron ore, rose by 12.7% or 7.2 Mt in 2015 to 63.4 Mt. The increase in 2015 was larger than the 6.8 Mt gain between 2003 and 2008.
The 30% slump in the 2015 maize harvest compared with 2014 also affected bulk exports with grain and sugar bulk exports from the other ports such as Durban down 19.3% in 2015 to 11.6 Mt, although there was a surprise 12.8% year-on-year (y/y) rise in December, the first y/y increase since January.
In 2016 South Africa is likely to have no maize to export, so we could see bulk exports out of other ports drop back to the 7.4 Mt level of 2007, the last time there was a significant drought, although the 2016 episode seems to be worse than 2007.