In the battle for dominance in the U.S. container shipping trades, Mediterranean Shipping Co. didn’t deliver a knockout, winner-take-all punch, but it sure came close. After a determined yearlong climb up the rankings on The Journal of Commerce’s list of Top 40 Import and Export carriers, the Geneva-based carrier challenged the supremacy of Maersk Line, the world’s largest container line, winning the race to the top among carriers handling U.S. exports and overall trade.
Although Maersk retained its top ranking in the U.S. import trade, MSC enters 2012 as a triple threat in a U.S. trade Maersk has dominated for more than a decade.
In a year marked by severe rate volatility, MSC surpassed Maersk in total U.S. volume by more than 330,000 20-foot equivalent container units, while capturing 11 percent of the market on a year-over-year volume increase of 11.1 percent. In 2010, MSC held a narrow 72,073-TEU lead.
MSC’s 10.9 percent year-over-year gain on the exports side outpaced Maersk’s 6.1 percent increase, leading to a 416,683-TEU spread. And, while Maersk’s volume of U.S. imports were essentially flat, MSC volume grew 11.3 percent, closing the gap between the two leaders to 86,511 TEUs.
The battle between the world’s two largest carriers in some ways masked the slowdown in overall growth of U.S. containerized trade. Despite year-over-year growth of 4.2 percent in overall trade, with exports up 6 percent and imports rising 3 percent, the European financial crisis and weaker demand for Asia products — especially from China — weighed on the market: Overall trade was up 4.2 percent from the pre-recession year of 2008, while containerized export growth, at 5 percent, slowed precipitously in the second year of the Obama administration’s National Export Initiative. The NEI’s goal of doubling exports in the five years to 2014, well on pace after a 21 percent jump in exports of all types in 2010, now looks in jeopardy.
The JOC rankings underscore the top-heavy nature of the business, with the Top 5 carriers in overall trade — MSC, Maersk, APL, Evergreen and Hapag-Lloyd — accounting for 40.1 percent of the total 29.6 million TEUs.
Led by MSC, volume carried by the JOC Top 5 Export Container Lines rose 7.4 percent year-over-year and represented 40.9 percent of the total 12.4 million TEUs. Although overall 2011 exports increased 6 percent year-over-year, JOC research shows volume for 15 carriers among the Top 40 actually declined year-over-year, and 21 carriers were still below their pre-recession 2008 results.
The JOC Top 5 Import Container Lines slipped 0.6 percent in year-over-year volume while claiming a 39.6 percent share of the 17.1 million-TEU import market. Although overall imports increased 3 percent from 2010, volume declined for 13 of the JOC Top 40 import carriers, and 16 lagged pre-recession 2008 totals.
Four new entrants joined the U.S. trades since 2010, including start-ups The Containership Company and Hainan PO Shipping and two others, Grand China Logistics and TS Lines, that expanded their service portfolio. TCC and Grand China have since withdrawn from the U.S.
U.S.-flag carriers Horizon Lines and Matson Navigation withdrew their trans-Pacific services last year, and Sea Star suspended its Puerto Rico service last July. Trailer Bridge, another U.S.-flag operator, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, four months after its filing.
As of March 16, active liner trade capacity was 16,114,983 TEUs on 5,982 ships, up 1.7 percent since early December, according to industry analyst Alphaliner (see Top 50 ranking, page 31.) The top 10 fleet operators control 62.7 percent of the market and have 240 ships totaling 2,350,680 TEUs on order — representing 23.3 percent of their existing capacity. As of March 16, Maersk and MSC were scheduled to increase their capacity by 18.7 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively.
Contact Marsha Salisbury at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top 40 Container Carriers : Exports
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Top 40 Container Carriers : Imports
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