The race is getting tighter for the U.S. container trade triple crown as the leading carrier in imports, exports and total volume. First quarter 2012 results in The Journal of Commerce’s rankings of the Top 40 Import and Export Container Carriers indicate a slim margin of 55,345 20-foot equivalent units between Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Maersk Line, the leaders in total volume.
MSC won top ranking in total U.S. container trade in the first quarter with an 11.4 percent market share. Second-ranked Maersk Line held a 10.7 percent market share of the 7.2 million-TEU market. Maersk Line led the duo’s year-over-year growth in the first quarter, with volume up 15.2 percent, outpacing the 2.3 percent growth of MSC.
Although Maersk Line advanced 10 percent year-over-year in the U.S. export trade, and MSC’s volume dropped 3.6 percent, MSC still won the trade lane with a 102,382-TEU margin. In U.S. imports, No. 1-ranked Maersk Line had 18.9 percent year-over-year growth. Maersk carried 47,037 TEUs more than No. 2-ranked MSC, which saw export volume grow 8.9 percent year-over-year. While Maersk Line was import-driven with a 60-40 percent import-export mix in the quarter, MSC was nearly evenly split in import-export TEU volume in first quarter of 2012.
The 2010 National Export Initiative to double U.S. exports by 2014 hasn’t exactly achieved soaring container volume yet — first quarter 2012 exports, while 30 percent ahead of first quarter 2009, were only 2.4 percent higher than the pre-recession first quarter of 2008 and just 0.4 percent year-over-year.
Overall first quarter volume rose 1.5 percent, led by a 2.4 percent rise in imports. Compared to the pre-recession first quarter of 2008, overall trade was essentially flat, inching ahead just 0.2 percent, with imports off 1.5 percent. Imports were 56.6 percent of total U.S. trade in the first quarter.
The JOC Top 5 Export and Top 5 Import Container Lines carried 41.7 percent of the more than 7.2 million TEUs in overall U.S. container trade, with 6.8 percent year-over-year growth in the first quarter.
With MSC at the lead, the JOC Top 5 Export Container Lines were up 3.5 percent in year-over-year volume, holding a 41.4 percent share of the total 3.1 million-TEU export trade in first quarter 2012. While overall first quarter export volume was flat, 17 carriers among the JOC Top 40 actually declined in volume and 17 carriers were still below their pre-recession 2008 results.
The JOC Top 5 Import Container Lines saw volume rise 9.5 percent year-over-year. Their volume was 42 percent of the total 4.1 million-TEU import trade in the first quarter, and Maersk Line remained the No. 1 import carrier. While overall imports in the first quarter increased 2.4 percent year-over-year, 16 of the JOC Top 40 import carriers saw volume decline year-over-year and 18 were still below their pre-recession 2008 results.
Since 2010, four new entrants have sailed into the U.S. trade lane — two start-up carriers, The Containership Company and Hainan PO Shipping; and two carriers that expanded their services, Grand China Logistics and T.S. Lines. TCC, Grand China and T.S. Lines have since withdrawn from the U.S. trade lane. Hainan PO Shipping remains and is ranked No. 27 among the Top 40 U.S. import carriers.
U.S.-flag Horizon Lines withdrew from the trans-Pacific last year, and Matson ended one of its two trans-Pacific services. Sea Star suspended Puerto Rico service from Philadelphia-Delaware River Ports in July 2011 after having moved from New York-New Jersey in April 2010. U.S.-flag Trailer Bridge emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with court approval of its reorganization-refinancing plan on March 16, just four months from its filing.
As of June 3, Alphaliner calculated current, active total liner trade TEU capacity at 16,417,338 TEUs aboard 5,980 ships, with 15,935,272 TEUs of capacity on 4,945 fully cellular active ships. Since March 16, that’s a 1.9 percent increase in active liner capacity with two fewer ships. The Top 10 fleet operators control 63.4 percent of the market with 10,409,715 TEUs in capacity, 46.4 percent owned and 53.6 percent chartered.
Contact Marsha Salisbury at email@example.com.