Dans le transport maritime, le retour des surcapacités

Le porte-conteneurs « Xinfu 103 », aux dimensions record de 399,99 mètres de long et 61,3 mètres de large, quittant son port d’amarrage dans la province chinoise du Jiangsu, le 19 mars 2023.

The major traffic jams at the entrance of ports, the frantic search for containers and ships to transport them, the five to tenfold increase in freight rates demanded by shipowners from their cargo customers… All these tensions observed between mid-2020 and mid-2022 seem like a distant memory. The price of container transportation has returned to normal and bottlenecks have disappeared.

The specter of overcapacity, a chronic problem in the shipping industry, is now resurfacing. It is not as alarming as it was after the 2008 financial crisis when demand from the giants of the seas plummeted, but it will continue to impact freight rates and therefore the profitability of companies until 2024.

In 2021-2022, companies achieved unprecedented profits: over 300 billion dollars (280 billion euros). They then ordered around 900 ships from Chinese and South Korean shipyards, often using liquefied natural gas (LNG) or sometimes methanol, such as Taiwan’s Evergreen, China’s Cosco, or Israel’s Zim. Most notably, the Italo-Swiss company MSC, which secured its global first place position in early 2022, with a capacity of 5.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), followed by the Danish company Maersk (4.15 million). The Alphaliner firm estimates that with its investment pace, the French company CMA CGM will become the second largest shipping company by 2026.

« A challenging period »

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« There is a risk on the supply side » of boats in the next twelve to eighteen months, warned its CEO, Vincent Clerc, in August, on Bloomberg TV. CMA CGM announced shortly before that « deliveries of new capacity are expected to weigh on freight rates, particularly on the east-west routes » from Asia to Europe and the East Coast of the United States, the main trade corridors with the Transpacific. « Carriers are facing a challenging period in the contract market due to weak demand and increased ship capacity, resulting in widespread long-term rate reductions, » confirms Norwegian firm Xeneta.

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