The columns of red and black numbers in the rankings of the Top 40 Container Lines by volume reflect the tenuous recovery from the deep downturn in trade that hit carriers so hard in 2009. The import and export volumes almost returned to pre-recession levels of 2008, but not quite.
The total volume of loaded containers moving into and out of the U.S. increased 11.6 percent last year over 2009, strong growth in most years but volume still was 2.2 percent lower than in 2008. Exports increased 8.2 percent, but lagged 2008 by 1 percent. Imports grew 14.2 percent, but were still 3 percent below 2008 levels.
The vast majority of carriers did better last year than in 2009, with most returning to the black. Carriers say they are emphasizing profitability over market share in the wake of the frenzied rate-cutting of 2009 that plunged most of them into the red. They say they no longer accept shipments of containers they can’t carry at a profit.
Some carriers performed much better than others in 2010, showing significant growth in shares of the U.S. import or export markets, while others lost ground.
But beware. As Mark Twain said, there are “lies, damn lies and statistics.” Remember this when you see that some of smaller carriers gained the most market share in percentage terms. They gained the most because they were growing off smaller bases. CSAV Group, for example, showed one of the biggest year-over-year increases in exports (up 44.3 percent) and imports (up 56.9 percent), but ranks 20th in total export volume and 19th in total import volume.
Maersk Line retained its No. 1 position among import carriers, with a 5.5 percent increase in inbound volume. By midyear, however, Mediterranean Shipping Co. overtook Maersk’s long-held position as the top export carrier, and held on through the rest of 2010, with a 22.5 percent year-over-year jump. MSC has been taking delivery of large numbers of new ships and aggressively deployed more capacity on the U.S. trades.
APL moved into third place among import carriers, bumping Evergreen into fourth. Hapag-Lloyd moved up into sixth place from seventh in 2009, pushing CMA CGM, one of only two carriers in the top 20 to see volume decline, down a notch. Hyundai Merchant Marine jumped into the eighth slot from 10th in 2009, as its import volume increased 27.5 percent.
The biggest gainer among the top 10 import carriers was Cosco, with a 43.9 percent jump in import volume, moving the carrier into ninth place from 14th a year earlier.
Two start-up carriers joined the list of top U.S. import carriers last year. TCC, The Containership Co., began U.S. service with the arrival of its first vessel in Los Angeles on May 3, and its volumes the rest of the year were strong enough to rank it in 30th place. Hainan PO Shipping, the 34th-ranked import carrier, began U.S. service with its first vessel arriving in Long Beach on Sept. 3.
Even as MSC moved into the No. 1 slot among export carriers, others moved up the list.
APL bent every effort to accommodate export customers with contracted bookings in the face of tight capacity and a shortage of containers. It moved into fourth place, bumping Evergreen down a slot. CMA CGM, which, like MSC, has been adding capacity, jumped two slots into sixth place. Hyundai moved up a notch into eighth, bumping OOCL to ninth from sixth last year.
There were also some changes in Alphaliner’s rankings of the largest container lines by fleet capacity (see rankings, page 37).
The top three carriers maintained their rank by capacity, but the No. 2 and 3 carriers are snapping at the heels of No. 1 Maersk, whose share of total fleet capacity slipped from 14.9 percent last March to 14.5 percent this month. No. 2 MSC, with its new ships coming on line, saw its share rise from 11.1 percent last year to 12.9 percent this year. CMA CGM, still No. 3, increased its share to 8.2 percent from 7.6 percent last year.
No. 4 Hapag-Lloyd jumped two ranks into that position as its capacity jumped 15.5 percent over the same period last year. Its rise pushed APL into sixth place from fourth last year. APL has been cautious about ordering new ships for the last decade, so it hasn’t added any capacity. It plans to order new ships this year to replace its charter tonnage.
Contact Peter T. Leach at email@example.com.
Marsha Salisbury contributed to this report.