Ship management company

Investors in the dark on China’s industrial transportation as data restrictions bite

April 25 (Reuters) – A wave of COVID-19 lockdowns in Shanghai presents the biggest test yet for investors, trading companies and logistics managers trying to keep up with China’s economy after the government banned companies to publish data in real time.

As China’s most populous city struggles to emerge from weeks of crippling coronavirus restrictions, businesses can no longer see how goods move in and out of the key port following a recent data law that clamped down data sharing.

Industry barometers, from crude oil inventories at import terminals to high-frequency container throughput at ports, were previously widely available, providing a real-time window into the world’s second-largest economy unhindered by delays and possible distortions of official economic data.

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But since China’s personal information protection law came into effect in November, sources of crucial information about the world’s biggest exporting country have gone dark.

Shipping companies and brokers have resorted to less precise satellite tracking to monitor port delays. Traffic data to assess trucking and trade is no longer available. Traders follow port activity by phone calls or even by counting ships by hand.

This lack of visibility will affect all other links in China’s global supply chains as work gradually resumes, the flow of goods resumes and shippers seek to clear traffic jams off China’s east coast. .

“We are no longer able to obtain some of the high-frequency data, such as daily port cargo turnover, rail and air traffic passenger data,” said Dong Chen, head of macroeconomic research for Asia at Pictet Wealth Management.

“Some of the data has become monthly only,” Chen said. “We just have to go with what it is.”

The Cyberspace Administration of China and the Ministry of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment on the law’s impacts on data.

Containers, tankers and bulk carriers crowd off the Chinese coast


The data law is the latest in what PwC accounting calls “one of the toughest regulatory regimes many multinationals will ever face.” The measures limit how domestic and foreign organizations can collect and use data, affecting all companies operating in China. Read more

Organizations monitoring industrial or commercial activity in China must comply with strict rules on data classification, storage, cross-border transfers, transparency and user consent management before they can release this data to customers. Read more

As a result, some data providers have suspended or stopped publishing data or moved it behind paywalls.

“Everyone is writing and talking about port congestion in China due to the recent wave of COVID, but we can’t find much authentic data to assess the real situation,” said a Beijing-based oil trader.

Two years ago, when COVID swept through China at the start of the pandemic, analysts, investors and journalists turned to traffic data from Dutch mapping firm TomTom to see how lockdowns were stifling mobility in major cities of the most populous country in the world.

Not now. Chinese cities are not available on the company’s free international traffic congestion page, which continues to track data from dozens of other places around the world.

“We have made the business decision to discontinue the historical and live stream of traffic for Chinese cities through our TomTom Move portal and our Traffic Index website, as China’s law on sharing and disclosing GPS data was recently enhanced,” TomTom spokesman Ivo Bokkerink said. by email.

TomTom continues to provide data to subscribers in China, he said.

After shipping companies stopped publishing Automatic Identification System (AIS) feeds on ships in Chinese waters, traders and others who track ship movements have used satellite positioning data that may be less accurate than ship-to-shore AIS signals.

“I would say last year we were talking to people a few times a month” to supplement the data on how the supply chain is changing, said Ivan Lam, principal analyst at Counterpoint Research. “But in recent weeks, it’s been a daily occurrence.”

Others have gone more old-fashioned.

“Real-time data-driven decision-making is at the heart of what we do in life these days, especially with supply chain issues stoking the fires of inflation,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management.

“Now we’re reduced to relying on people to manually count ships outside Shanghai and Ningbo ports at 7 p.m. every day for benchmarks.”

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Reporting by Gavin Maguire in Singapore, Muyu Xu in Beijing and Xie Yu in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Sarah Wu in Taipei; Editing by William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.