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Cost-cutting and innovation way back to profit: MOL president Muto
JAPAN's Mitsui OSK Lines' (MOL) focus for the coming year will be on restoring profitability through cost cutting and innovative management, said company president Koichi Muto.
"To ensure that we return the MOL Group to the black, it is more critical than ever that we avoid committing major mistakes. Every member of the MOL Group will strive to rigorously enforce safe operations and compliance as an ongoing top priority," he said.
"This will encompass the voluntary return of certain salary amounts by senior management level employees, and cuts in executive remuneration," he said in his annual address to the company on the occasion of its 129th anniversary.
"We need to improve efficiency of vessels' deployment by minimising ballast voyages through the optimal combination of various voyages and cargo. Our top priorities for ensuring a return to profitability are to make determined sales effort along with demonstrating creativity and ingenuity," Mr Muto said.
"We will overhaul operations that we have taken for granted. We will also measure and re-evaluate all costs through an item-by-item inspection," he said.
"Cost cutting is a task that we can achieve through our own efforts, regardless of the external environment. We have so far achieved a measure of success through various ways, such as the extended use of slow steaming. In fiscal 2013, we will reduce costs on an entirely different stage than before." Mr Muto said.
"We will execute bold reforms of unprofitable operations and non-core assets, leaving no stone unturned. Measures will extend to withdrawing from businesses and disposing of assets," he said.
"It is imperative to demonstrate creativity and ingenuity. We need to hone our sensitivity to understand disparities among sea areas, and short-term swings in the shipping market," he said.
"We cannot afford to neglect the execution of growth strategies. To this end, the MOL Group is actively preparing for future growth in the fields of LNG carriers, offshore business, and containerships," said Mr Muto, the only mention he made of box shipping in his entire address.
Asia-North Europe trade wrestles with supply and demand imbalance
THE westbound cargo volumes on the Asia-North Europe trade lane continue to disappoint with an increase of 8.7 per cent between December 2012 and January 2013 attributed to seasonal uplift.
According to latest data from Drewry Maritime Research, services outnumbered demand with only two withdrawn before the European winter season of CKYH's NE4 and the G6 Alliance's Loop 3, and Maersk's AE9 suspended and then reintroduced in December.
Cancellations of sailings went from four in December to 11 in January and 10 in February which bettered October's vessel utilisation of 79 per cent to 94 per cent in December and 101 per cent in January. February bumped down to 71 per cent due to seasonal imbalances of cargo volumes post-Chinese New Year, according to latest data from World Container Index assessed by Drewry Maritime Research.
By reintroducing withdrawn services carriers hope to improve berth coverage but with an upsurge in capacity cascading onto this trade at around 45 ULCVs averaging 13,250 TEU in 2013, increasing the trade lane by replacing vessels of 8,000 TEU and 9,000 TEU, an increase of six per cent and seven per cent.
Carriers are delaying deliveries into 2013 to include three vessels of a six order of 13,200-TEU vessels to German carrier Hapag-Lloyd to the first half of 2014 following negotiation with the shipyard. The remaining three will delivered in 2013 with the first deployed on the Hong Kong Express service.
Other carriers are juggling capacity with Korea's Hanjin to cascade its 10,000 TEU vessels from the NE6 service between Asia and North Europe to an Asia-USWC loop to limit damage from entry of its newest 13,000 TEU vessels by retaining smaller vessels.
However, carriers are reluctant to withdraw too much capacity and lose market share already eaten by Daily Maersk.
Eastbound trade has increased slightly due to government intervention to boost exports to Asia, which while showing a steady increase from September's 331,000 TEU to February's 378,000 TEU, made little difference to average vessel utilisation of 60 per cent.
To restore utilisation, MSC stopped bookings during March to "allow the cargo booked in time to receive the best attention and required level of service, especially in view of the well-known and widely announced limited availability of space and equipment during the coming weeks."
DJ Hongkong International Terminals Says Strike Costing It $643,087 in Daily Losses
The world's third-busiest container port is in danger of losing its competitiveness to its archrivals in Asia as a crippling strike in Hong Kong drags into its sixth day and shipping lines begin to reroute their cargo to neighboring ports.
Hongkong International Terminals , a unit of billionaire Li Ka-shing 's Hutchison Whampoa Ltd . (0013.HK, HUWHY), said the strike is costing it 5 million Hong Kong dollars (US$643,087) in daily losses. The company is trying to distance itself from the strike and has called on its contractors to negotiate with dock workers for a resolution of the crisis. The workers, who aren't employees of HIT, are demanding a 20% pay rise to a daily wage of HK$1,600, equivalent to a monthly salary of HK$24,000 based on 15 working days.
The port operator late Monday obtained an emergency court order for protesters to vacate the terminal premises, but the around 450 workers are continuing to strike, having regrouped to just outside the port facilities and said they will escalate their actions if negotiations don't bear fruit. The unions say the striking workers account for some 30%-40% of dock employees serving Hutchison's terminals in the city.
Large-scale strikes in Hong Kong have been rare in recent years, due to weaker labor unions as well as generally improved working conditions. In 2007, a strike of steel bar benders in the city ended after nearly 40 days with contractors offering significant pay rises.
Hong Kong's port is one of the main transshipment gateways for consumer goods produced in the Pearl River Delta--south China's industrial hub--to be exported to customers in the West. For many years the city was the world's busiest container port, but strong competition with coastal cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen has pushed Hong Kong to the third spot in 2011 behind Shanghai and Singapore. Last year, container traffic through the city fell 5.2%. Still, many shipping lines and freight forwarders prefer to use Hong Kong's port because of its highly efficient and reliable operations, as well as more frequent sailing schedules, as compared with some of the newer ports in mainland China. Containers are mainly trucked to Hong Kong or sent via river barges from factories across the Pearl River Delta.
Hongkong International Terminals warned on Tuesday that continued industrial action could affect some 80 container vessels expected to call at its terminals in the next three days. Hutchison currently operates 16 of Hong Kong's 24 deep-water ship berths and has a 70% market share in terms of port handling volumes.
Taiwan's Evergreen Line, which operates the world's fifth biggest container shipping lines by fleet size, said the company is considering shifting some of its container vessels to other ports as a contingency plans in response to the labor disputes, but declined to elaborate.
An executive at a major Japanese shipping line, who declined to be named, said that the company's cargo traffic via Hong Kong has been delayed by more than three days due to the strikes, prompting the line to consider rescheduling some of their ships to first call at other cities.
"Some of our vessels may even skip calling at the Hong Kong port entirely and be rerouted to other ports if the situation persists," the person said.
Hongkong International Terminals noted that relevant contractors have earlier agreed to raise workers' salaries by 5% this year and that they will be making HK$21,000 per month, up from HK$17,000 in 1997. However, Lee Cheuk-yan, a lawmaker and head of the Confederation of Trade Unions, which represents the dockers' union, said the workers' wages are actually even lower than they were in 1995, following several rounds of salary cuts.
Mr. Lee said the contractors aren't willing to negotiate with the union, and are even threatening to fire the striking dock workers if they refuse to get back to work. Contractors of Hongkong International Terminals couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Asia/Europe box rise erodes further
Carriers have lost more than half of the rate increases they managed in mid-March for Asia/North Europe container shipments.
In another sign that demand continues to lag supply, the Shanghai Containerised Freight Index assessed the Asia/North Europe route at $1,140 per teu, down $114 from the previous week.
The Asia-Mediterranean rate lost $86 to $1,128/teu.
Drewrys World Container Index also showed declining rates. Drewry assessed the Shanghai-Rotterdam rate at $2,278/feu, down $66 from the previous week, while the Shanghai-Genoa rate lost $87 to $2,262/feu.
However, trans-Pacific rates held strongly, showing gains since carriers raised rates on 1 April. The SCFI showed the Asia/US West Coast rates rose $160 to $2,264/feu, while the Asia/USEC rates rose $164 to $3,411/feu.
However the WCI showed declines in trans-Pacific rates, reflecting the Shanghai/LA rate as $2,024/feu, down $141 from the previous week. The Shanghai-NY rate was assessed at $3,271/feu, down $112 from the previous week.
CIMB Securities shipping analyst Raymond Yap commented: The Shanghai Shipping Exchange reported that slot utilisation in the Asia/North Europe and Asia/Mediterranean trades during the final week of March was just 70%.
The next rate increase of $500/teu, scheduled for mid-April, could also be quickly eroded in the absence of stronger demand recovery.
Despite the relatively modest success rate, trans-Pacific rates are holding up at decent levels, and around levels where carriers should be relatively happy to sign one-year contract rates from 1 May, he predicted. CARRIERS have lost more than half of the rate increases they managed in mid-March for Asia/North Europe container shipments.
Asia focus puts Wan Hai in the black
Wan Hai Lines reported the highest earnings per share among the nations three major container shippers for last year, thanks to its strategy of significantly decreasing services on routes to the US and Europe and focusing on the Asian market.
With the gradual recovery in global economy, the company said it planned to raise its profit sources this year by appropriately raising transport capacity for certain routes to the US and South America.
Wan Hai the nations third-largest container shipper with a focus on shorter intra-regional routes in Asia posted a net profit of US$22.44 million for last year, Taiwan Stock Exchange data showed.
The container shippers profitability last year also showed a significant rebound from net income of $680,000 in 2011.
Similarly, the nations two largest container shipping firms by fleet size, Evergreen Marine Corp and Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp, both returned to the black last year.
Evergreen reported net income of $4.3 million for the whole of last year, from losses of $103 million recorded in 2011, the company said in its filing to the Taiwan Stock Exchange.
Yang Mings net profit for last year was $1.72 million, compared with losses of $315 million recorded a year earlier, the companys financial data showed.
Both Evergreen and Yang Ming have confirmed they would not pay dividends to shareholders this year. Wan Hai has yet to announce its dividend payout plan.
Various industrial pundits have attributed the container shipping industrys improving profitability last year to shippers consensus in controlling supply to maintain reasonable freight rates.
Several global container shippers cut rates to pursue a greater market share in 2011, seriously eroding industry profitability and resulting in a loss-making year.
However, given the flat growth expected in new supply this year, Evergreen vice-chairman Bronson Hsieh said last month that market conditions could become more balanced from last year, further helping major shippers sales and profitability.
A report issued by Horizon Securities last week said the container shipping sector may see its profitability swing back into the red this year, citing its unsuccessful rate-hiking last month.
The latest trend in Shanghai Containerized Freight Index showed the freight rate has yet to reach the level recorded in the same period last year, raising uncertainty about the industrys momentum, the report said.
Citi Research, a division of Citigroup Global Markets Inc, said in a report on March 19 that it expected Wan Hai to be more resilient in the volatile industry environment this year, shielded by its emerging-market exposure.
We believe Wan Hai is relatively shielded from industry-wide headwinds given healthier demand outlook in Intra-Asia [and] less supply pressure, the brokerage said in the report
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