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  August 26th, 2016 | Written by

Container Carriers Still Practicing Predatory Pricing

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  • Container carriers still unsuccessful in raising rates.
  • Ten of the 14 ocean trades posted higher first-half container volumes.
  • Containership utilization rates are up to 90 percent.

The latest news from the container shipping world should be considered relatively good news for the shipping lines, yet the carriers are still unsuccessful in raising rates.

Now that data from all 14 global trade lanes are in for the first half of the year, Drewry has reported that total volumes are slightly higher year on year. Ten of the 14 trades managed to post higher first-half volumes. That translates into an addition of close to one-million TEU, half of which came from the Asia-West Coast North America trade.

At the same time, the carriers are acclimating themselves to the slow-growth area. They have removed capacity from slow lanes, primarily by selectively skipping voyages and have achieved utilization rates of 90 percent or close to it in many cases. Drewry’s research indicates that fronthaul load factors on the main east-west trades was around 90 percent in in the second quarter of 2016, up from 86 percent during the same period last year.

With containers on the rise and utilization optimized, the assumption would be that container carriers would be able to make some freight rates stick. And yet that has not happened. Something else is afoot and Drewry thinks it know what it is.

“While rates are trending upwards,” a Drewry report said, “their slow pace indicates that supply and demand alone is not dictating pricing and that shippers and forwarders are still the beneficiaries of predatory commercial strategies on the part of carriers.”

In other words, while the container shipping picture has improved over the last number of months, the carriers are still stuck in the pre-recovery mentality. Keeping rates low to maintain market share is still the name of the game. While shippers and forwarders benefit from this state of play, it also means that the carriers’ financial pain will only continue.

It’s possible that the carriers’ position is not totally irrational. Container gains have not been robust. If first-half volumes continue, full-year results would only inch past the 0.8 percent growth rate recorded in 2015. This year’s results will likely still be the third-lowest rate this century behind 2009 and 2015.

So, while it appears that the container carriers have made great strides to optimize their capacities, they still haven’t figured out a way to increase their revenues.

Peter Buxbaum is web editor of Global Trade.