Slide in container freight rates may be beginning to level out
Freight rates on the major east-west container trades continued to slide this week – although ...
OOCL increased carryings by 6.9%, year on year, in the third quarter, to 1.7m teu, while improving turnover by 7%, to $1.56bn.
However, the carrier experienced sharply contrasting fortunes on its transpacific and Asia-Europe tradelanes.
The quarterly operational numbers from parent Orient Overseas International, now majority-owned by Cosco Shipping, are seen as an early guide to the performance of the carrier’s liner industry peers, which will report their third-quarter results in the coming weeks.
On the transpacific, OOCL’s liftings increased quarter on quarter by 7.3% to 509,436 teu, and the carrier saw revenue leap by 15.5% to $650,985m, reflecting the spike in spot rates of 60% for Asia to the US east coast and 70% for west coast ports, compared with 2017.
But from Asia to Europe, revenue was flat, at $305,338m, despite a jump of 10.4% in liftings to 328,786m teu.
And as well as the lower average rates per teu on the route, the impact of increased fuel costs, of around 40%, will have severely dented the voyage results of OOCL’s Asia-Europe sector.
On the carrier’s biggest region – intra-Asia/Australasia – the carrier loaded 6.6% more containers, 762,851 teu, but here again revenue lagged cargo growth, improving by only 2.3% to $467,201m.
On the transatlantic, OOCL’s smallest region, the numbers were down by 1.6%, quarter on quarter, to 109,121 teu, while revenue improved by 3.8% to $132,215m.
Although OOCL’s overall capacity increased by 3.9%, OOIL said the carrier had achieved an overall load factor 2.3% higher than for the same period of 2017.
OOIL reported a net loss of $73m for its OOCL container arm in the first six months of the year, which it attributed to increased fuel costs and extra expenses for repositioning of equipment caused by “strong headhaul growth and stable-to-weakening backhaul growth”.
The average price per tonne paid by OOCL for bunkers in the first half was $383, but this is likely to have been nearer to $450 in the third quarter, putting further cost pressure on the financial performance of the carrier.
Following Cosco’s completion of the $6.3bn acquisition of OOIL in July, which propelled the merged container business above CMA CGM to become the world’s third-biggest carrier with a fleet capacity of 2.8m teu, and a market share of 12.4%, the new management has pledged to maintain OOCL’s iconic brand.
Indeed, according to The Loadstar’s sources, most of the key OOCL sales and booking staff have been told their “jobs are safe”, although some have chosen to leave the organisation in the wake of the takeover.
Having experienced considerable negative fallout from the merger of the two Chinese state-owned carriers Cosco and China Shipping Container Line in 2016, when shippers of the latter were said to have “left in droves”, Cosco is obviously keen to retain the support of OOCL’s loyal customer base.
Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd is scheduled to publish its Q3 results on 8 November, followed by Maersk on 14 November. According to analyst estimates the liner industry is carrying forward some $2.2bn in losses incurred in the first six months of this year.