A COSCO container ship docks at Ningbo, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Yao Feng/For China Daily]

Boosted by China’s growing trade volume in the first quarter of this year and the world’s surging demand for shipping services, the stock index of China’s shipping-related businesses rose 7 percent on Wednesday, while the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.1 percent to close at 3479.63 points.

Share prices of shipping companies COSCO Shipping Holdings Co Ltd and COSCO Shipping Specialized Carriers Co Ltd hit the daily ceiling of 10 percent to 16.15 yuan ($2.47) and 4.28 yuan, respectively, in the A-share market, according to market tracker Wind Info.

China Merchants Energy Shipping Co Ltd and COSCO Shipping Energy Transportation Co Ltd rose by 8.17 percent to 5.56 yuan and 8.86 percent to 7 yuan, respectively.

Analysts said the share price surge in the sector was stimulated by the better earnings performance of shipping service providers in the first quarter of this year and anticipation of a fast growth in China’s foreign trade during the first quarter as well as the first half of this year.

Hong Kong and Shanghai-listed COSCO Shipping Holdings Co Ltd said its net profit would reach 15.45 billion yuan in the first quarter of this year, up 52 times over the same period last year, the company said in an earnings preannouncement on Tuesday.

The company said that during the reporting period, the container shipping market continued growing. The average value of the China Containerized Freight Index was 1960.99 points, up 113.33 percent from the same period a year ago and up 53.8 percent from the fourth quarter of last year.

Dong Liwan, a professor of shipping and port services at Shanghai Maritime University, said COVID-19 had to a certain extent boosted the shipping business in China, as both Chinese manufacturers and shipping companies played key roles in supporting the global goods trade and supply chains since the second quarter of last year.

Due to the imbalance between the rising demands of exporters and the tight supply of containers, freight rates between Shanghai and ports in the United Kingdom rose nearly fourfold between March and November last year while rates from Shanghai to Los Angeles had more than tripled, he said.

Though China has the world’s largest manufacturing system with the most complete industrial chains and supporting facilities, there has been a migration of orders from Southeast Asia to China as many countries within Asia were incapable of delivering the orders to their global clients on time, said Feng Hao, a researcher at the Institute of Comprehensive Transportation affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission.

With China producing more than 90 percent of the world’s shipping containers, the country’s shipping companies have less difficulties to gain enough shipping boxes, he said, adding as vaccinations become the norm around the world and effective control of the pandemic becomes increasingly evident, the global shipping business will gradually return to normal in the second half of this year.

To resolve the shortage of dry cargo containers occurring in other parts of the world, Mai Boliang, chairman and CEO of China International Marine Containers (Group) Ltd, said the company has already raised monthly container production volume from more than 200,000 units to over 400,000 units.

Apart from manufacturing standard shipping containers that are 500 kilograms lighter than foreign containers, Shenzhen, Guangdong province-headquartered CIMC has already invented a high-end storage compartment featuring constant temperature maintenance that can be used in container vessels, freight trains or for airfreight to ship vaccines to different parts of the world.