Friday, August 28, 2009

Hapag-Lloyd financial problems as reported by Spiegel

I found an article originally from Spiegel on-line (part of the German news group Der Spiegel), which has been translated into English and published on the Free Internet Press.

Here is the link

It's really long, but if you are interested in the state of international container shipping, take the time to read it.

Here are some parts which I found interesting.

At current prices, we aren't making money on any route," Ulrich Kranich, the executive board member in charge of global operations, says, summing up the main reason for Hapag-Lloyd's financial woes. Shipping companies currently receive only about $500 to ship one container from Asia to Europe - about $300 less than they need to cover their costs. A year ago, shipping companies were still collecting more than $1,500 per container.
Although Maersk also lost money - $373 million - in the first quarter, the Danish shipping company is owned by an oil and gas company that can more easily shoulder the losses in its shipping division.

None of the world's major shipping companies is currently turning a profit. Singapore-based NOL, for example, posted a $245 million loss, while South Korea's Hanjin lost $110 million.

Like Maersk, though, these companies have the backing of either financially strong corporations or their governments. NOL is owned by the Singapore state investment fund Temasek, which just approved a $1 billion capital increase. The Chinese shipping companies Cosco and China Shipping can rely on the support of their government. The same is true of Japanese shipping line NYK.

But Hapag-Lloyd appears to have been hit by the biggest crisis in shipping at the worst possible time. Because it was forced to transfer its substantial profits from previous years to its ailing parent company TUI, the Hamburg shipping company was barely able to build any reserves. At the end of last year, TUI sold Hapag-Lloyd to a consortium of the City of Hamburg, local businesspeople and banks. At the same time, it burdened the shipping company with €1.3 billion in debt, creating an additional drain on a company already faced with operating losses. The consequences are clear for company management in Hamburg. "Without outside help, we won't make it," says an insider.
Hapag-Lloyd is also getting rid of ships it leases. The company owns only about half of its fleet of 128 container ships. The other half are leased and, for this reason, are to be jettisoned more quickly. Hapag-Lloyd has already returned about 30 ships to their owners. Other shipping companies are pursuing the same strategy. Industry insiders say MSC, a Swiss company, does not plan to renew charters on close to 80 ships, while French company CMA which reportedly has up to 170 charter ships with charters about to expire.

This, in turn, is becoming an existential problem for many other Hamburg shipping companies suddenly faced with the return of ships they had been leasing to other companies.

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