by Eric Johnson (发表日期：25/10/2011)
翻译：国际海事信息网 张运鸿 汪涛 姚婉悦 杨双艳
The ocean carrier industry is finding it difficult to deploy a massive influx of capacity into global trades with relatively low levels of demand.
Rates have faltered on the eastbound transpacific and westbound Asia/Europe trade, and newer trades are showing signs of similar vulnerability. Meanwhile, the usually dependable intra-Asia trade is growing slower than the global average, according to Mathijs Slangen, a senior maritime analyst with consulting firm Seabury Group.
Slangen presented an analysis of ocean freight trends during an American Shipper-Seabury webinar in late September, “The View from the Bridge: Outlook for the Global Container Shipping Industry.”
In the webinar, Slangen outlined a host of macro issues affecting the liner industry, but also attached culpability to its current ship-ordering binge — made even before all the vessels from the previous ordering cycle have been delivered.
“Regional players evolve to global players, and so they want to have a proper global network, which means you need to compete with truly global players,” he said. “Once they start ordering larger vessels, one way to respond is to buy the same size vessels, or they can focus on differentiation.”
He was referring to a raft of orders in the last year for ships larger than 10,000 TEUs, placed by mid-sized carriers hoping to keep pace with the industry’s biggest lines.
“What we will see in upcoming years is that some of these carriers shouldn’t probably play at the global level,” Slangen said. “They should focus on regional trades, or feedering these mega-vessels. Shipping lines are hanging on too much to the idea of global networks.”
The problem at present is not an outright lack of demand growth. Seabury pegged first-half container volume growth at 7.8 percent, including 8 percent on the beleaguered westbound Asia-Europe trade.
The problem is capacity is growing faster than market demand dictates, resulting in overcapacity and stressed freight rates.
The two key east-west head-haul trades are both suffering in terms of rate levels, but for different reasons. On the westbound Asia/Europe lane, demand has actually held steady the past 12 months, but a major influx of large vessels has boosted capacity too high. On the eastbound transpacific, capacity has held steady but demand has fallen since mid-2010. These opposite developments have, however, had the same effect on rates.
“The supply/demand situation is deteriorating,” Slangen said. “Look at the number of layups (relative to poor rate levels). The market has to perform pretty drastically to get carriers to lay up vessels.”
He added the problem seems to be spreading to other trades as carriers try to cascade ships from Asia-Europe, or even introduce larger new vessels designed specifically for these niche trades.
“On the Far East/east coast South America trade, there’s been a huge recent increase in vessel size, and we’re seeing impacts on freight rates,” he said. “Asia/east coast South America deployment is growing faster than demand.
“We see a lot of shipping lines focusing on emerging markets. These markets are growing fast, but not as fast as we’re seeing the deployment into this market. Several lines are calling the Caribbean with ships that are way too large.”
Seabury’s 7.8 percent first-half container trade growth figure is due mostly to robust volume early in the year. U.S. exports to Asia handily beat the overall growth number, with 17 percent growth, but head-haul trade from Asia is lagging behind the global average at 6 percent.
As mentioned, Asia/Europe head-haul trade, where rates have disintegrated this year, was at 8 percent, showing demand is not the problem, but rather too much capacity.
Slangen noted that intra-Asia trade was also sluggish in the first half, at 6 percent growth. It’s atypical for intra-Asia growth to lag behind overall global growth. The slow growth may be tied in part to the disasters in Japan in March, with semi-manufactured goods from northeast Asia driving a significant percentage of intra-Asia volume.
He said the disasters may permanently affect trade flows into and out of Japan.
“For instance, Japan is a big importer of seafood, and a lot of the processing of seafood from Europe to Japan that used to take place in Japan has shifted to other parts of Asia,” he said. “I’m not sure this will go back to Japan.”
To gain a perspective on how larger ships are affecting capacity growth, it’s instructive to look at how fast ship sizes have grown in the past decade. The average vessel serving the Asia/Europe trade has reached nearly 8,000 TEUs of capacity, while it’s around 5,600 TEUs on the transpacific.
“There’s been a doubling of (average capacity per vessel) in Asia-Europe in 10 years,” Slangen said. “That’s massive. Smaller operators without economy of scale will withdraw from the trade and focus on other trades.”
According to Seabury, the top lines can be loosely grouped into four categories when it comes to ship ordering.
In the first group are lines who have kept their order books at consistent levels the last five years. In that group are Maersk Line, Mediterranean Shipping Co., Hapag-Lloyd, China Shipping, and OOCL (though Maersk’s and MSC’s ordered capacity levels are much higher than the other three).
In the second group are four lines (CMA CGM, COSCO Container Lines, Hanjin Shipping, and Yang Ming) which have adjusted their order book downward in recent years to align with market
A third group, composed of the three Japanese lines (MOL, NYK Line and “K” Line), is actively reducing its containership fleet size. And the fourth group (Evergreen, APL, and Hamburg Süd) has increased its order book the past five years.
These strategic divides paint a picture of a diversified industry. But overcapacity is affecting all lines in a more even way. As an example, Slangen said the Far East-to-Mediterranean trade is dictated largely by one carrier, MSC.
“Other shipping lines cannot increase their rates because MSC is not sailing full on that trade with their big ships,” he said. “That means that one line affects the whole industry.
“The effects (of the ship-ordering binge) will only really be seen in a couple years when delayed vessels and a record number of mega-vessels are delivered. A lot of vessel orders were placed based on nine or 10 months of growth. That will cause problems in the future.”
Meanwhile, Slangen said the outlook for the remainder of 2011 and 2012 is not so rosy, despite some recent positive signals in Asia. For one, peak season was delayed this year, and won’t be as intense as the last two years.
“Peak season has been delayed (relative to 2010) for two reasons,” Slangen said. “Last year, the peak was quite early. There wasn’t enough capacity in the market, and inventory managers saw this happening, so they started shipping their cargo quite early in the year. They also saw consumer confidence was back on track again. Now we have the completely opposite situation. There’s plenty of space on all services. But consumer confidence is at a low level now. Inventory managers now are really scared to restock again. So it’s very complex in that sense.”
Slangen said the debt crisis in Europe — with several countries “not in a very positive picture at the moment” — and stagnant consumer spending in the United States belies a strong increase of luxury goods into China. Another positive signal in Asia is that while foreign direct investment into India slowed in the first quarter of 2011, it has increased in the second quarter.
But he added U.S. consumer demand in July was at about January 2005 levels.
“The growth in upcoming years won’t be as high as seen before,” he said. “I anticipate 2012 to be a very tough year.”
Seabury uses 40 different sources of data and tracks 2,000 cargo commodities for its analysis, but Slangen said a key resource to monitor are purchasing managers indexes (PMIs), which he said have a “high correlation with global trade.”
The PMIs are particularly useful in monitoring intra-Asia trade, where the bulk of the volume is tied up in semi-manufactured goods. PMIs for the United States and Europe were trending downward through August.
Though the PMIs are still way above the levels seen in 2009, they are approaching the point at which manufacturing is considered to be contracting. In fact, PMIs for nearly every important region are trending below the point at which manufacturing will stop expanding.
One positive development for the liner shipping industry is that bulk commodities are shifting to container transport. It’s occurring not only because of low container rates, but also because of increased commodity prices. Indeed, commodity prices have increased almost uniformly since 2006, save for a dip in late 2008.
“If the commodity price of a specific cargo is increasing, then it becomes more attractive to ship it by container,” Slangen said.
The container industry should also take heart from the fact that various container rate indexes now available are much more stable than the Baltic Dry Index, which measures bulk cargo rates. The BDI has been much more volatile than container rate indexes since 2009, suggesting the container industry is a relatively less
risky market in which to ship bulk
However, Slangen noted moving bulk volumes to containers “can only be subsidized if they are on a backhaul. There’s not really a change in container balance due to this though.”
Slangen pointed to Seabury’s research showing backhaul imbalances have changed little on the major long-haul trades from 2000 to 2010.
He also noted, as American Shipper reported earlier this year, that freight forwarders are capturing a larger share of the ocean freight market.
“There has been a strong increase in bargaining power of freight forwarders,” Slangen said. “Freight forwarders tend to respond in a faster way to trade developments, and in this case they are increasing their market share quite heavily.”
To listen to the American Shipper/Seabury webinar, access on line at