For three years, Mediterranean Shipping Co. has fallen just short in the quest to be the top carrier in all three segments of the U.S. container trade: imports, exports and overall volume. The difference in 2012 again was in the imports trade, where Maersk Line handled a mere 138,463 20-foot-equivalent units, or 10 fully laden mega-ships, more than MSC.
Maersk’s growth also outpaced MSC’s on the head-haul trade, 6.5 percent to 3.9 percent.
But MSC easily topped the U.S. export trade with a 288,684-TEU margin over No. 2 Maersk. In the process, the Geneva-based carrier overcame a 4.5 percent decline in volume as Copenhagen-based Maersk was registering 3.9 percent growth.
That growth gap — overall, Maersk’s U.S. volumes increased 5.4 percent while MSC’s inched down 0.2 percent — helped the world’s largest carrier narrow MSC’s lead in overall trade to a mere 150,221 TEUs, with MSC claiming 10.8 percent of the 30 million-TEU market to Maersk’s 10.3 percent.
Overall U.S. trade rose 1.7 percent year-over-year in 2012; compared to pre-recession 2008, overall trade advanced 3.7 percent. 2012 imports increased 2.6 percent year-over-year with a 2.3 percent rise above 2008. Imports represented 58.3 percent of total U.S. trade in 2012, despite volume declining at 14 of the JOC Top 40 import carriers year-over-year, and 15 lagged their pre-recession 2008 results.
The Obama administration’s goal to double U.S. exports in the five years through 2014 stalled in 2012. The 6.3 percent surge in 2011 exports gave way to a 0.4 percent gain — essentially flat — last year. Although U.S. exports were 15.4 percent above 2009, the year before the National Export Initiative took effect, and 5.7 percent above pre-recession 2008, volume declined at 14 of the Top 40 carriers, and 15 others were still below their pre-recession 2008 results.
Four container lines entered the U.S. trade lane since 2010: 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. All four have since withdrawn from the U.S. trade lane. The most recent, 31st-ranked Hainan PO Shipping on the import ranking, saw its FMC tariffs expire at the end of November.
As of April 3, research analyst Alphaliner calculated active liner trade capacity at 17,021,350 TEUs aboard 5,925 ships, including 16,553,552 TEUs of capacity on 4,944 fully cellular active ships. That represented a 1.3 percent increase since early December, with 43 fewer ships in the fleet. The 10 largest fleet operators control 63.1 percent of the market with 10,739,253 TEUs of capacity, 48.3 percent owned and 51.7 percent chartered. The Top 10 fleet operators have 167 ships on order, totaling 1,788,619 TEUs and representing 16.7 percent of their existing fleet capacity.
Top-ranked A.P. Moller-Maersk — which includes Maersk Line, Safmarine, MCC-Transport, Seago Line and Mercosul Line — held a 15.2 percent share of the global container ship fleet with 2.6 million TEUs, while No. 2 MSC has a 13.5 percent share with 2.3 million TEUs.
The Maersk orderbook, at 379,793 TEUs, represents 14.6 percent of its existing fleet, while MSC has 184,996 TEUs on order, or 8 percent of its current fleet, according to Alphaliner.