RWI/ISL-Container Throughput Index

RWI/ISL Container Throughput Index: Sharp drop in February

Press release of 24.03.2020

The Container Throughput Index of the RWI and the Institute for Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL) dropped sharply by 10.9 points in February according to the current flash estimate. It is the strongest drop ever observed. The fall was mostly a result of the development in Chinese ports.

The most important results:

  • The seasonally adjusted Container Throughput Index of the RWI - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research and the Institute for Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL) dropped by 10.9 points to 102.5 in February.
  • At the same time, the Index for January was revised downwards as expected, namely by 2.2 points down to 113.4.
  • The driving force of the drop were the Chinese ports, but also ports at the U.S. West Coast handled significantly less containers.
  • In the U.S., the trade conflict with China had a negative impact. The COVID-19 pandemia will only show its impact in March.
  • In China, the drop will be mostly due to missing terminal handling capacities as many port workers returned to the ports late after the Chinese New Year holidays due to quarantine measures. The halt of industrial production due to the COVID-19 pandemia and the related drop of imports and exports is likely to show its full effect in March only.
  • The flash estimate for February is based on information from 44 ports representing 65 percent of the handling volume represented in the index.
  • The RWI/ISL Container Throughput Index for March 2020 will be published on 30 April 2020.

RWI’s Chief Economist Roland Döhrn on the development of the Index: “In February, we saw a drop of the index like never before. We expect a further decrease in March.”


Prof. Dr. Roland Döhrn

Phone: +49 201 8149-262

Dr. Sönke Maatsch

Institut für Seeverkehrswirtschaft und Logistik
Tel.: (0421) 22096-32

Background Information

The Container Throughput Index is a joint project of RWI with the Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL). It aims at providing timely information on short term trends in international trade. The index is based on the consideration that containers have become the most important means of transporting processed products. Therefore, the global container throughput and international trade can be expected to be highly correlated.

Container Throughput Index

As a part of their monthly reporting many ports publish data on container throughput expressed in twenty foot equivalent units (TEU). ISL collects these data systematically in its port database. The 89 ports covered in the index account for about 6 out of 10 containers handled worldwide.

Calculating the indicator starts about 20 days after the end of each month. At that time, about 25 ports have already published information about the container throughput in the latest months, which allows for a flash estimate of the indicator. Data still missing are forecasted using statistical time series models. Thereafter, the data are added up and the sum is adjusted for seasonal and calendar effects. Furthermore, the trend-cycle component of the seasonally adjusted figures is estimated to eliminate irregular influences. One month later, as a rule data on 65 ports are available. Then an update of the figures already published is made and a new flash estimate for the latest month is released.

Hitherto, the RWI/ISL-Container Throughput Index shows a close correlation with world trade. The index provides valuable input into business cycles analyses, since it is available 3 to 4 months in advance of data on world trade published by international organizations, and one month in advance of the first estimates of world trade volumes.

Related Publications

RWI Materialien


Döhrn, R. (2019), Schnellschätzung des RWI/ISLContainerumschlag-Index: Evaluierung und Weiterentwicklung. RWI Materialien 129. download

Articles in other journals


Döhrn, R. (2019), Sieben Jahre RWI/ISL-Containerumschlag-Index – ein Erfahrungsbericht. Wirtschaftsdienst 99 (3): 224-226. download


Döhrn, R. (2016), Neuberechnung des RWI-ISL Containerumschlag-Index: Der Einfluss des chinesischen Neujahrsfestes. RWI Konjunkturberichte 67 (4): 49-52. download


Döhrn, R. und S. Maatsch (2012), Der RWI/ISL-Containerumschlag-Index – Ein neuer Frühindikator für den Welthandel. Wirtschaftsdienst 92 (5): 352-354. download

Döhrn, R. (2012), Containerumschlag-Index als Frühindikator für den Welthandel. Schiff & Hafen 2012 (8): 14–16.