Continuing growth in cargo volumes helped lift Port of Tauranga's first half year group net profit by 4 per cent to $49 million.

Total trade through New Zealand's largest port increased 8.8 per cent to nudge 13.6 million tonnes in the six months to December 31.

The listed company declared an interim dividend of 6c a share, up 5.3 per cent on the previous period's dividend.

Chief executive Mark Cairns said the company was on track to deliver a strong result for the full financial year and earnings were expected to be at the upper end of the previous guidance of $96m to $101million.

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Container volumes rose 5.1 per cent to 621,117 TEUs, while transhipment volumes, where containers are transferred from one service to another at Tauranga, increased 19 per cent to 174,983 TEUs, cementing the port's role as an international hub, Cairns said.

Transhipments made up more than a fifth of containers handled in the six months.

Imports were up 5.7 per cent to nearly 5 million tonnes and exports lifted 10.8 per cent to 8.6 million tonnes, which included an 11.7 per cent increase in log exports to 3.7 million tonnes.

The company's inland freight hub MetroPort Auckland handled nearly 4 per cent more containers than in the previous corresponding period, setting a new record in cargo transferred by rail to and from Auckland during the seasonal October to December peak.

Wholly-owned subsidiary Quality Marshalling increased its earnings by 36.4 per cent, but associate companies' earnings declined compared with the previous period. Associate companies include Northport, Timaru Container Terminal and PrimePort Timaru.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns says preparations for more cargo growth are well under way.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns says preparations for more cargo growth are well under way.

Group revenue was $153m, against $141m in the same period last year.

Chairman David Pilkington said Tauranga, as the only port that can easily accommodate the global trend to large container ships, was working well as an international hub port for shippers to access fast and frequent shipping connections to North Asia and South America.

The volume of transhipments from other New Zealand locations and Australia continued to be pleasing, he said.

The port company, 54 per cent owned by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, completed a big expansion programme a little over two years ago to accommodate larger ships.

Cairns said with the trend to larger vessels continuing, the company was planning for more cargo growth with a ninth container crane due to arrive next year and preparations underway to extend the container terminal quay by up to 385 metres.

The port had the capacity to increase train frequency, Cairns said. In the six months to January 31 this year, the port's use of rail avoided the equivalent of more than 300,000 truck movements, he said.

The company had renewed a long-term operating agreement with major packaging manufacturer Oji Fibre Solutions, which had committed to consolidating most of its import and export cargo through the Port of Tauranga for the next 10 years.

Log exports had remained buoyant on strong demand from China and record international prices, while sawn timber volumes increased 9 per cent.

Kiwifruit exports rose by 30 per cent and frozen meat volumes increased 17 per cent on the same period last year. Apple volumes through the port increased 65 per cent.

Dairy product exports were steady with volumes the same as the first half of the 2018 financial year.

Ship visits were down 5.4 per cent to 842 but the average stay continued to increase, Cairns said.