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Against a backcloth of another steep drop in Asia-Europe spot rates last week – down 12% in just seven days – there seems to be no let-up in orders for ultra-large containerships, which, according to shipping consultant Drewry, is a “do or die” strategy by carriers “determined to stay in the race for more competitive economies of scale”.

Indeed, in its weekly Container Insight, Drewry says that the capacity of ULCS of over 10,000teu will increase by 31.4% this year, as 60 behemoths are delivered, and by a further 30% in 2015.

But it adds that cargo growth is “unlikely” to be enough to fill these newbuilds over the next two years.

Drewry expects some of the deliveries to be delayed – only 34 of 44 vessels of over 10,000teu due in 2013 actually came into service – but adds that it all depends on the negotiating powers of the buyers.

With a supply/demand imbalance on the Asia-Europe tradelane from the influx of new ULCS, the implication is that some will have to be deployed on other routes, but the consultant concludes that if this were to happen, the economy of scale advantages of the vessels would be lost from their under-utilisation.

Meanwhile, the next few weeks will see more ocean carriers post their financial results for 2013, and give outlooks on the prospects for this year. Already we have heard from Hanjin, which reported a $630 million negative, and China Shipping Container Lines warned that it expected to post a loss of $435 million.

With a widely accepted poor final quarter of 2013, it is difficult to see how ocean carriers that were in the red, or even at break-even point, at the end of Q3 will be able to report full-year black figures.

Moreover, even the most optimistic of accompanying statements will struggle to put a positive spin on the prospects for Q1 14 and beyond.

The major exception to this negativity in the liner container trades continues to be Maersk Line, which reports its annual results next week – and this is before the substantial cost savings it expects from the proposed P3 alliance tie up with MSC and CMA CGM.

The Danish carrier was carrying forward a surplus of $1.2bn from the first nine months of 2013 and, in its normal unassuming manner, expects its overall 2013 result to be “significantly above” 2012, when it posted a market-leading net profit of $461m.

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