containerport of Bremerhaven, Germany.

Despite a weakening in demand, ocean carriers will bank another $200bn of profit between them this year.

In its latest Container Forecaster report, maritime consultant Drewry said it was downgrading its 2022 outlook for world port throughput to 4.6%, from its previous assessment of 5.2%.

This is due to “fast-rising inflation” and ongoing supply chain bottlenecks which, it said, were “conspiring to slow the pace of growth”.

Nonetheless, Drewry says it expects the carrier “gravy train” will keep rolling this year, buoyed by the trend towards longer-term contracts being signed at much higher rates.

“Drewry forecasts that ocean carriers will ride a third year of 15%+ annual growth in total revenue in 2022, with global carrier industry sales expected to exceed $500bn for the first time,” it said.

“The pandemic and ensuing supply chain crisis is the primary driver of the supercharged carrier profits and share price bonanza. In simple terms, the longer the congestions lasts, the longer freight rates and carrier profits will stay extremely high.”

Evidence of a trend of stunted growth came from OOCL’s operational data, released yesterday, which recorded a 17% year-on-year decline in the carrier’s Q4 20 liftings, to 1,850,179 teu, for a full-year volume of 7,587,158 teu, 1.7% ahead of the previous year.

The carrier reported a decline of 4.3% in transpacific liftings compared with 2020, to 2,073,223 teu, after it suffered a quarter-on-quarter plunge of 25% in the final three months, to 479,747 teu, as acute congestion at the US west coast ports idled some 100 ships at sea.

However, its average rate per teu carried during the year doubled, to $2,067, over the course of 2021 and reached $2,638 per teu in the final quarter. For example, from Asia to Europe, OOCL’s average freight rates spiked by 204% over the year, to $2,844 per teu, but for Q4 the average rate stood at $3,524 per teu, as the higher rated contracts started to kick in.

There is obviously more to come on the revenue side, with highly-elevated contract deals being signed by shippers on Asia-Europe, the transatlantic and, in the next few months, the transpacific.

“It’s win-win for us at the moment,” a UK-based carrier source told The Loadstar recently. “We already had customers prepared to pay more, but then along came the Maersk forwarder bombshell and we have really cleaned up.”

And, according to Drewry, shippers are in for another very rough ride this year, without any immediate sign that the supply chain can be fixed.

It warned that the “bulk of the risk from the highly unpredictable container market will reside with shippers”, and that 2022 was “shaping up to be another year of severe disruption, under-supply and extreme cost”.

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