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Monday, 29 February 2016

Mega-Ships: Efficiency or Competition

In the past eleven years, the CAGR of global container port traffic including 2009 crisis effect showed a steady growth rate at first glance. It sounds promising that world container trade will grow at an acceptable rate.

The graphic below shows the period of 2003-2014 (including 2009 crisis effect).

Graph - Global Container port traffic million teu

But after 2009 global crisis, it is known that the pace of CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of global container port traffic slowed down. There are two CAGR values shown in the graphic below as pre-crisis and post-crisis.

Graph - Global Container port traffic million teu

It is crystal clear that there is a huge difference between pre-crisis and post-crisis eras. After the 2009 crisis, the pace of CAGR decreased by half approximately. It means that the world seaborne trade could not get its pre-crisis strength and this trend will continue at least for a couple of years (despite cheap fuel prices). In other words, the world container market will grow but at a much slower pace.

Lines should take this development into consideration otherwise; there will be under-utilization in container carriage traffic all over the world. There are already some big alliances among the lines and this is creating some efficiency. But in the long term, adding more and more ULCVs into fleets can disrupt the balance since traffic growth is not parallel with the additional container-carriage capacity. Market leaders also anticipated this reality. Recently, in his interview at the JOC event, Maersk CEO Soren Skou pointed out that; 25K TEU ship is possible but not practical.

Of course, it is well documented that the lines are seeking for economies of scale. But this effort was more efficient when it first started in the late nineties. It was a huge step from 7K plus (in the mid-1990s) TEU to 15K plus (in the mid-2000s) TEU (and the efficiency was considerable). But leaping from 20K TEU to 25K TEU, even to 30K-35K TEU is not as efficient as in the previous decade.

In my personal opinion, having bigger mega-ships is like a game of competition. I think, the decisions are driven by over-confidence or panic in order to sustain market share and by a desire to be ranked on top in terms of carriage capacity.

Despite the awareness of the market players, the competition game is still continuing. Ship orders are increasing for the sake of being one of the members of over-20K TEU club. Thus, maritime experts tend to ask if the reason of having more mega ships is efficiency (economies of scale) or fierce competition.

Opinion piece written by Huseyin Sipahioglu https://tr.linkedin.com/in/huseyin-sipahioglu-68b97418

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