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Marine shippers bulk up: another game of chicken in the works?

Global shipping companies have been placing orders for large ships, with many anticipating further increased competition within the next three years. Shipping companies have recently ended their decade-long game of chicken which raised deficits, pressuring many companies to close shop and forcing major restructuring and M&As.

Recently, the industry saw a major boom as the COVID-19 pandemic increased demand for global shipping, but some industry watchers point out that once the virus situation ends the shipping companies could engage in another price war.

Maersk holds the largest market share with 16.9 percent followed by MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company with 15.9 percent, COSCO with 12.3 percent and CMA with 12.3 percent. Meanwhile, Korea’s leading transportation and shipping company HMM ― formerly Hyundai Merchant Marine ― is in eighth with 3.1 percent.

Many shipping companies are keeping a close eye on the top two companies Maersk and MSC to sense if they are planning to engage in another price war in the coming years.

For the last decade, Maersk and MSC teamed up to create the so-called “2M” alliance, upgrading to larger vessels to increase freight capacity, leading the global shipping price war.

“Global powerhouses have been busy operating and constructing large vessels that are capable of loading two to three times that of previous ships, while the new engine speed is slower but sturdier and utilizes less fuel. So they are able to cut costs in key areas and lower prices more than other competitors that do not operate newly built large container ships,” an HMM official said.

For the past decade many shipping companies have been forced to adapt to the prices or conduct major restructuring to have a hope of competing. Hanjin Shipping which was once the world’s seventh-largest container shipper was forced to declare bankruptcy in early 2017, failing to raise money and restructure its debt. Three Japanese shipping companies also merged to establish Ocean Network Express (ONE) while others went through major restructuring or acquisitions.

However, some industry experts say a price war may not occur as Maersk has been heavily investing to transition into an all-in-one integrated logistics company expanding into services that provides land-based shipments from factories and customs services as well as warehousing rather than just operating international container shipments.

“Maersk has been heavily investing in its land-based services and they will need all the money they can acquire,” an industry official said. “So it is unlikely they will lower shipping costs and restart a price war.”

With the support of the Korean government HMM has the construction of 12 13,000-twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) ships in the works and aims to increase the company’s capacity to 1.12 million TEU by 2025. However, it still is not sufficient to compete with other top players in the industry, which continue to invest heavily in building larger vessels.

According to Alphaliner’s May 19 report, Maersk holds the global top rank with 4.11 million TEU followed by MSC with 3.95 million TEU, CMA with 3.03 million TEU and COSCO with 2.99 million TEU, while HMM is in eighth place with 798,000 TEU.
Source: The Korea Times

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