© Sheila Fitzgerald

Japanese carrier ONE saw its net profit more than double in its fiscal first quarter, to 30 June, to $5.5bn, despite a decrease in its carryings.

It is perhaps a further sign that container lines may have enjoyed their best-ever quarter, but that demand has peaked.

Compared with the same period of 2021, ONE’s revenue was up 56%, to $9bn, from liftings of 2,939,000 teu, down 5% on the previous year, for an average rate of $3,069 per teu.

Rival OOCL’s operational numbers for Q2 were also down by a similar percentage, suggesting a cooling market, while its average rate per teu came in at $2,874.

ONE CEO Jeremy Nixon attributed the fall in liftings between April and June to issues including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, port congestion and lockdowns at Chinese cities, but said it was “too early to say” how demand would develop for the remainder of the year.

“Will these global difficulties translate into the cancellation of production orders, a rise in inventory levels and a significant reduction in container volumes?” asked Mr Nixon; or would the lifting of Chinese restrictions and an ongoing US appetite for Asian goods “see continued strong container demand?”.

During the quarter, ONE’s average headhaul liftings from Asia to Europe dipped to 95%, as ships no longer sailed full on the tradelane, in contrast to the transpacific where it maintained 100% load factors from Asia to North America.

ONE said it was “extremely difficult” to “announce a reasonable business forecast for the current financial year and as such the company’s forecasts for FY2022 are yet to be finalised”.

Indeed, given that its financial year ends on 30 March 2023, visibility will be limited on whether it can exceed, or even match the $16.8bn profit of the previous year. Nevertheless, it said it expected the current supply chain disruption to unwind at some stage.

“ONE expects the excessive strain on the entire global supply chain and the resulting operational bottlenecks, caused mainly by the spread of Covid-19, will eventually be resolved and the situation will gradually move toward normalisation,” said the carrier.

Notwithstanding the impressive top line, ONE is facing significant cost headwinds: from a 61% increase in the price it pays for its bunker fuel, which for the quarter came in at an average $750 per ton; as well as higher operation costs (including charter hire); and increased agency and system costs.

On the business performance of its 30% equity affiliate, MOL noted the softening of liftings but said that utilisation levels “remained firm” and that freight rates were “significantly higher than the same period of the previous year”.

“Term contracts which were renewed reflecting earlier high spot rates also contributed to earnings. As a result, profit significantly increased in a year-on-year comparison,” it said.

MOL said it anticipated that both liftings and rates would “maintain the current level until the beginning of autumn”.

Meanwhile, 40% stakeholder NYK was more positive, “amid ongoing supply chain disruptions”, saying it expected ONE’s future results to “exceed expectations, due to the continuing favourable market condition resulting from robust shipping demand and other factors”.

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