Archives for category: Liner

Last year saw a huge amount of change in the under pressure container shipping sector. In particular, the ongoing consolidation of the sector in one form or another grabbed the headlines. To put this into context, it’s interesting to see how the level of consolidation relates to other parts of shipping, how it has developed over time and how it might progress looking forward.

Solid In A Fragmented Field

It’s quite clear that the shipping industry is a fairly fragmented business. On the basis of start 2017 Clarksons Research data, 88,892 ships in the world fleet were spread across 24,267 owners. That works out at less than 4 vessels per owner. Although 145 owners with more than 50 ships accounted for almost 12,000 of the vessels (and 29% of the GT), it’s still not that consolidated. The liner shipping business however is one the more consolidated parts of shipping, as well as being home to some of the industry’s larger corporates. At the start of the year, the 5,154 containerships in the fleet were owned by 622 owner groups, about 8 ships per owner, but, perhaps more pertinently, were operated by 326 carriers, about 16 ships per operator. Each of the top 8 operators deployed more than 100 ships. But despite the less fragmented nature of the sector, recent market conditions have led to another round of consolidation in the box business.

All Change At The Big End

The three largest operators (by deployed capacity) at the start of 2017 were European: Maersk Line (647 vessels deployed) followed by MSC (453) and CMA-CGM (454). Of the remaining carriers in the top 20 all but three were based in Asia or the Middle East. However, what’s really interesting is that out of the 20 largest carriers back in late 2014, 4 are now gone. CSAV was acquired by Hapag-Lloyd, NOL/APL by CMA-CGM and the two major Chinese lines merged. And of course in late summer 2016, the financial collapse of Hanjin Shipping marked the sector’s biggest casualty in 30 years.

Long-Term Liner Trends

Against this backdrop, the graph shows  that the latest wave of box sector consolidation is actually part of a long-term trend. Back in 1996 the top 10 carriers deployed 45% of capacity and at the start of 2017 that figure stood at 70%. The coming year is set to see Hapag-Lloyd complete its merger with UASC, and Maersk Line’s planned acquisition of Hamburg-Sud is also awaiting necessary approvals. The second half of last year also saw the three major Japanese operators declare their intention to merge containership operations in a joint venture due to be established this year and start operations in 2018. The ‘scenario’ based on these changes would see the top 10’s share at 79%, nearly twice as much as 20 years ago.

Tracking The Top Table

So, the container sector is one of the more consolidated parts of shipping, and both the long-term trend and recent developments point towards ongoing consolidation. Many hope this will help the recalibration of market fundamentals and eventually support improved conditions. In the meantime, we’ll be publishing the ranking of the top containership operators every month, so watch this space.


After another year of extremely difficult market conditions, many would forgive liner sector players for an air of resignation. However, despite a challenging freight market, charter rates remaining firmly in the doldrums and a major corporate casualty, looking back 2016 may well be seen as the year in which the container shipping sector really started to tackle its problems head on.SIW1255

Sustained Struggles

The container shipping sector has spent much of the post-financial crisis era under severe pressure and, as many expected, 2016 proved no real exception. Box freight rates in general remained weak, and the SCFI Composite Index averaged 18% lower in 2016 than in 2015. However, by late in the year it did appear that spot freight rates might be bottoming out on some trade lanes.

Against this backdrop, charter market vessel earnings remained extremely challenged, at bottom of the cycle levels. The one year rate for a 2750 TEU ship averaged $6,000/day in 2016, 37% lower than in 2015. ‘Old Panamax’ types fared even worse, averaging $4,979/day in 2016, 58% down on 2015, with the opening of the new locks at the Panama Canal impacting vessel deployment patterns.

Fundamental Traction?

Nevertheless, sector fundamentals did appear a little more positive in 2016. Demand conditions improved, with global volumes expanding by an estimated 3% in the full year to 181m TEU. Volumes on the key Far East-Europe trade returned to positive growth and the rate of expansion on intra-Asian trades accelerated back to more robust levels. However North-South volumes and trade into the Middle East remained under severe pressure from the impact of diminished commodity prices, though volumes into the Indian Sub-Continent grew strongly.

Meanwhile, containership capacity growth slowed significantly in 2016, reaching just 1.2% in the full year. Deliveries fell dramatically to 0.9m TEU (from 1.7m in 2015) and demolition accelerated rapidly to a new record of 0.7m TEU.

Still A Surplus

However, given the level of surplus built up in the post-Lehman years, and in particular the impact of the delivery of substantial capacity, much of it in the form of new ‘megaships’, the improved supply-demand balance seen last year was not enough to generate any significant improvement in market conditions. At the end of 2016, around 7% of total fleet capacity stood idle. The financial collapse of major Korean operator Hanjin was a further illustration of the acute distress facing both operators and owners.

Getting To Grips?

So, further recalibration still appears to be necessary to generate better markets. However, 2016 might also be seen as the year in which the sector finally started to lay real foundations for a better future. Demolition hit a new record, and financial distress and regulatory requirements are expected to drive further recycling. The ordering of newbuild capacity dropped to just 0.2m TEU in 2016, a dramatic halt.

Meanwhile, further significant steps in the consolidation of the sector were taken in the form of merger and acquisition activity involving major operators; the top 10 now deploy 70% of all boxship capacity, a figure set to rise to around 80%. Building blocks only these factors may be, but many will hope that at last container shipping is starting to build towards something more positive than the gloomy conditions that perpetuated in 2016.

Idle capacity has been a feature of the containership sector since the economic downturn in 2008-09. Prior to that, box freight rates tended to vary according to fairly macro factors, and liner companies appeared less inclined to resort to micro supply management to address imbalances. But in recent years, there have been clear phases of containership ‘idling’, each highly reflective of conditions in the sector.

The Worst Of Times

Global box trade dropped by 9% in 2009, and liner companies were left with little option but to idle significant levels of capacity to resurrect freight levels from rock bottom levels (Phase 1 on the graph). By the end of 2009, 1.5m TEU, or 11% of total fleet capacity stood idle. This did at least help push freight rates back up.

Not The Best Of Times

It did of course have a negative impact on the charter market, leaving owners, with an easy supply of laid up ships lurking in the background for charterers to access, unable to bid up rates. But, with some believing the world economy to be recovering quickly, substantial amounts of idle capacity were soon reactivated and by the end of September 2010, there was only 1.6% of the fleet idle (Phase 2). However, with freight levels having dropped again, further lay-up followed, and by end March 2012, the position had been reversed and 5.9% of the fleet was idle (Phase 3). Charter owner tonnage accounted for around 70% of the total by the summer of 2012, and most of the idle capacity was in classic charter market sizes, with only 3% above 5,000 TEU, putting pressure back on charter rates.

Better Times?

In the next phase, market conditions very slowly appeared to become more helpful, and idle capacity gradually fell, with the winter peak receding each year (Phase 4); idle capacity peaked at 6% of the fleet in early 2012, 5% in 2013 and 4% in 2014. But the charter owners’ share stayed high, keeping pressure on the charter market. It took until well into 2014 for rates to see much positive traction. By the end of 2014, idle capacity was finally more limited, at 1.3% of the fleet, reflective of the improved environment.

Time For A Change (Again)?

Today, despite severe freight rate pressure, idle capacity is still fairly limited at 2.5% of the fleet, but it is on the rise and the charter market is softening, ceding some of its gains. Larger ships had begun to account for a greater share of the idle pool (24% over 5,000 TEU in May) but recent weeks have seen a return to increased smaller ship idling.

So how will Phase 5 play out? There are a range of scenarios. Liner companies might continue to compete aggressively on the mainlanes with an apparent surplus of big ship capacity, and endure freight rate pain without idling too much more capacity. Or to protect freight rates they might start to idle a greater number of larger ships. Alternatively, they might once again pass down the pressure to the smaller ship arena, leaving more significant levels of capacity there to impact on the charter market. Much might depend on the flexibility of tonnage. Either way, once again, the development of idle boxship capacity will be a sign of the times. Have a nice day.


Each year, in the first week of November, we invite readers of the Shipping Intelligence Weekly to predict the value of the ClarkSea Index one year ahead. The competition entries are always interesting, and give us an idea of what the shipping industry’s expectations of the market really are. However, as everyone knows, it’s hard to get it right and the competition can only have one winner…

Stick Or Twist?

In 2013, it felt like there was some consensus amongst industry players that the bottom of the cycle might have been reached and that markets would start to take a turn for the better. Shipowners contracted 176.9m dwt of new ships, the highest level since 2008, reflective of a more optimistic outlook than previously. The ClarkSea Index represents a weighted average of tanker, bulker, boxship and gas carrier earnings, and it is interesting to see if the entries in our annual competition supported this optimism.

At a first glance it seems that competition entrants had a cautiously positive outlook, with the average prediction of the early November 2014 index value at $14,553/day, well above the $10,843/day average prediction for November 2013 from last year’s competition. The average forecast was also far above the actual full year 2013 ClarkSea Index average of $10,263/day, and the value at the start of November 2013 of $10,767/day.

Hard Times?

Looking at 2014 to date, this optimism may have been slightly misplaced. The ClarkSea Index overall has not performed particularly well since November 2013, averaging just $11,625/day. Crude tanker earnings have improved but have been spiky, while product tanker earnings have generally remained under pressure. Bulker earnings have seen limited upside aside from some helpful spikes in the Capesize market. Gas carriers have been the star performers, with significant earnings gains, but containership earnings have remained in the doldrums.

During most of 2014 to date, the index has stood below the $12,000/day mark. Across the 45 weeks in the year to date, the ClarkSea Index only exceeded the average competition prediction in three of them. However, last week, on 7th November 2014, the ClarkSea Index rose to $15,139/day, helped by more positive bulker and tanker markets and up 41% year-on-year, if still well below the 2004-13 historical average of $20,795/day.

Pipped At The Post?

So, although index levels this year have generally remained low, the recent rise has meant that the actual value on 7th November was higher than the majority of competition entries. Around 25% of the ‘forecasts’ stood in the $13-14,000/day range; maybe people were right to be optimistic after all? However, having dipped below the $10,000/day mark in September, the index has only really improved over the last month or so.

So, is the glass half empty or half full? Depending on your viewpoint, the cautious optimism has either been misplaced or justified. Whatever the case, this year’s winner is Mr Peter Bekkeston of Klaveness Chartering with a forecast of $15,123/day. Have a nice day, Peter; your champagne is on its way.