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  May 5th, 2016 | Written by

Pain of Current Container Market Extends Beyond Carriers

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  • Container shipping lines’ diminishing profits have now almost universally turned to losses.
  • Drewry: Shipowners are increasingly exposed to the financial weakness of the container shipping lines.
  • Hyundai and Hanjin seek to lower charter prices with shipowners in exchange for equity in the companies.

Much of the focus on the recent slump in the container shipping market has focused on the bottom lines of the shipping lines that move cargo on the water. Their ever-diminishing profits have now almost universally turned to losses.

Less is known about the financial health of the shipowners who charter their assets out. Few non-operating owners make their financials available to the public.

A recent report from Drewry Maritime Research concludes that shipowners are increasingly becoming exposed to the financial weakness of their clients. “More could face the tough dilemma of either reducing charter rates upon request or having to idle, sell, or scrap,” said the Drewry report.

The available 2015 results for of some of the leading independent owners show that last year was generally still a profitable one, but the financial pressures are building up, Drewry found. Charter rates are plummeting as demand for assets fall and the risk of charter renegotiations is increasing as the financial health of their clients worsens.

The Howe Robinson Containership Index that measures charter rates is currently down by over 40 percent on the year, the report noted.

Danaos Corp. and Capital Product Partners L.P. (CPLP), two owners that are heavily exposed to the South Korean carrier Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) have said that the carrier’s actions have the potential to substantially lower their revenues. Reports indicate that HMM has reached agreement with around 60 percent of its charterers to lower their prices in exchange for equity in the company.

Hanjin Shipping is expected to follow suit as it seeks to hand over operational control to its main creditor, the Korea Development Bank (KDB). Many more independent owners are exposed to Hanjin than HMM, Drewry notes, “so the pain will be more widespread if those charter rate reductions become a reality.”

Shipowners do not delight at becoming part owners in failing carriers, but the alternatives would be having no business at all for their assets or business at much reduced rates.

Independent owners are also hurting because they tend to own a greater share of the smaller ships at a time when carriers, due to the expansion of the Panama Canal and other factors, are seeking to upsize their fleets.

“There can be no doubt that this will be a challenging year for all types of owners of containerships,” Drewry concluded. “In particular, owners that invested in speculative newbuilds back in 2013-14 that are due to be delivered soon and are yet to find a charterer, and those with existing ships that are due to come off-hire, will be increasingly worried.”