Market situation – container flows – March

Update March 2023 In order to provide a clear overview, we have broken this update down into geographical regions. Although not all trades are in the report, similar trends apply. If you require more detailed info on specific trade or topic you can always reach out to your usual Manuport Contact.

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Asia–Northern Europe

  • 2M have finally confirmed a structural suspension of one of the six services on this trade. The AE1 / Shogun service has now been officially suspended. This will have little effect, as the sailings out of China on this service were already canceled in early December 2022. The suspension of the service will result in some changes to 3 other loops. The AE10 / Silk service will include Xiamen. A double call at Rotterdam is replaced by a call on the AE6 / Lion service and a call on the AE55 / Griffin service.

    • The AE6 / Lion service will become the biggest 2M service, because in March and April MSC is receiving five 24,000 TEU vessels, which will need to be included in existing loops. The AE6 / Lion service will be the most suitable. This will increase the weekly capacity by approx. 10%.

  • Volumes have dropped tremendously in the past few weeks, and this has resulted in a significant drop in rates. In an attempt to stop the decrease, carriers are pulling out services. Like 2M, as discussed in the above paragraph. At the beginning of March, the void sailings out of Asia represented 14% of the total market capacity.

Asia–Mediterranean

  • Following the info on Asia–Northern Europe, and more specifically the delivery of the new builds from MSC, MSC will upgrade their ‘Dragon’ service with bigger ships than initially expected. The increase in TEUs varies between +15 and +50%, depending on the vessels.

Intra-Europe

  • Whereas the overall capacity has decreased by 1.2% on this trade, mainly due to the war in Ukraine, CMA CGM (together with Containerships) has increased its capacity share from 15% to 16.2%. Unlike other carriers, CMA did not eliminate entire services but has shifted some tonnages to other services. (The leading carrier in terms of capacity remains MSC, with 32.6% market share)

The capacity on N. Europe–Turkey in particular has increased significantly with CMA.

Country specific - France

  • The national federation for ports and docks declared a strike, which started on March 15 and will last until March 23, following the French government’s plans to increase the retirement age. The strikes are nationwide and across all sectors. Any logistics activity will be greatly affected. It remains uncertain when the strikes will end.

Middle East and Indian Subcontinent

  • A lot of tonnages are being shifted from the Asia trades to these trades, as a result of the decreased volumes, mainly out of China.

Latin America

  • CMA CGM and COSCO have fully suspended their Far East–South America West Coast fortnightly service due to a structural volume decrease.

Country specific - United States

  • The active container fleet on the Transatlantic trade (between Europe and North America East Coast) grew by 16.2% at the start of 2023, as a lot of vessels have been shifted to this trade away from the Asia trade, since the rates ex Asia have become less attractive.

  • The Union Pacific Railroad will cancel its chassis policy as of May 1. The current policy prevents trucking companies from coming into the terminals with private chassis when there are no pool chassis available. Truckers who brought their own chassis to clear a backlog of containers were refused by the Union Pacific, making the cargo inaccessible. All other American railroads already permit truckers to use their own chassis.

General information

  • Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) has initiated a procedure to sell the government’s shares to become a privatized company again. Since 2016, HMM has been controlled by the South Korean state after the government rescued it from a liquidity crisis.

  • Vessel inactivity rises at the end of February were close to 6.5%. Many of these inactive ships are in dry docks for maintenance, repairs, or the conversion of their exhaust systems.

  • Maersk files claim against Evergreen for the blocking of the Suez Canal with the ‘Ever Given’ in March 2021. The Danish carrier has calculated that approximately 50 of their ships were delayed due to the incident. They want to be compensated for the resultant costs (e.g., late delivery fines, waiting for fees). The expectation is that other containers will jump on board. However, it will not be easy to come up with solid evidence that these costs directly resulted from the incident.

Opinion pieces

  • What if all container alliances fell apart?

Lars Jensen, who has worked for Maersk for a long time and founded Sea-Intelligence, expects that the end of the 2M alliance (in 2025) will lead to the breakup of all big alliances as we know them today. He expects the end of Ocean Alliance to be announced later this year, which will most likely trigger the end for THE Alliance.

Another interesting topic is a potential merger between ONE and Hapag-Lloyd. Hapag is the fifth largest carrier and, if it wants to remain competitive, it has little choice but to merge with the Japanese carrier ONE.

None of the above rumors has been confirmed by any of shipping lines themselves. So, for the time being, it is mere speculation about the future.

  • To stock or not to stock, that is the question

As pricing out of Asia has seen a steep decrease, many companies are (again) in doubt about how to position themselves toward this market. Several companies (especially in a production environment) still have very high stocks of raw materials and half-fabricates. They have bought these stocks to overcome the risk of additional service and/or production disruptions caused by the logistic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the explosive demand right after the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, a logistics or supply chain manager who worked on the basis of high stock was thought of as being ‘old fashioned’ or simply ‘outdated’. The majority of companies strive to be as ‘lean and agile’ as possible and the stock was often considered as capital, which was just sitting in a warehouse, costing money.

Enter the global pandemic. COVID-19 placed a stranglehold on global logistics and the once-considered ‘old-fashioned’ supply chain manager went from zero to hero. Because of their insights into logistics, the supply chain manager made sure that their company was able to keep on producing while their competitors could not, deliver on time while others were begging to receive their products, and keep logistics spending under control where others were forced to pay unseen (and obscene) amounts of money to get their cargo shipped.

But equally as fast as the rise of our hero, is their fall. The global pandemic is under control in the major driving economies, and this has resulted in the first stages of a normalization of the markets. In the market situation in which we are in today, the global crash of demand, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and the energy crisis have all led to overcapacity on the major container trades. As a result, the raw materials or half-fabricates, in combination with the logistics out of Asia, have gone down severely, which has caused our supply chain manager to have a stock that is overpriced and will cost money either way. If the manager used the stock for production, the product would be too expensive to sell, and it would kill the business. If the manager doesn’t use the stock, they would have to pay for the warehousing, and the capital which is stuck in the stock cannot be used for anything else.

As nobody likes a sad story, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end for our supply chain manager. Because of the steep decrease in rates, containers are invoking void sailings, and re-routing vessels without prior notice (THE Alliance sailing via the Cape of Good Hope instead of passing through the Suez Canal to save money), and some are even suspending entire services. These practices might eventually result in serious disruptions of cargo flows out of Asia again, potentially keeping stock management as a very hot topic for the months to come.

The conclusion is that there is no right or wrong policy to apply. Today it is key for a company to have a supply chain strategy that is very agile, to respond to the constantly changing global logistic challenges. The supply chain models need to be equally adaptive to the dynamics of what is happening in the world, and especially the speed at which these changes take place.

For additional questions or remarks, you can always reach out to your usual MPL contact.

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