Container-Ship Alliances to Buoy Rates in 2012, Platou Says

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Rates for ships hauling boxloads of manufactured goods may rise next year after owners said they will cooperate on some trade routes to overcome a vessel glut and slowing trade growth, RS Platou Markets AS said.

Six lines said yesterday they will form an alliance for Asia-Europe trade after a collapse in freight rates. Mediterranean Shipping Co. and CMA CGM SA, the world’s second-and third-largest owners, said Dec. 1 they agreed to a vessel-sharing accord on the same voyage. Added to the fleet of A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the biggest owner of container ships, the alliances will control about 68 percent of carriers operating on the route, investment bank SEB Enskilda said.

“We are increasingly hopeful for a better 2012,” Rahul Kapoor, a Singapore-based analyst for investment bank Platou, said in an e-mailed report today. “The move will effectively put an end to fight for market share with a greater emphasis on freight rates and vessel utilization and help a recovery in freight rates in 2012.”

The owners are teaming up to contend with a swelling fleet and slowing growth in demand. World trade will expand 5.8 percent in 2012, down from a previous forecast of 6.7 percent, the International Monetary Fund estimates. The number of idle container ships rose to an 18-month high as of Dec. 5, as 210 ships with a combined carrying capacity of 526,000 20-foot boxloads were unused, according to Paris-based shipping researcher Alphaliner.

Platou Markets, based in Oslo, is a unit of RS Platou ASA, owner of Norway’s biggest shipbroker.

Market Share

Costs for shipping Chinese goods to Europe climbed last week for the first time since August, gaining 1.8 percent to $499 per 20-foot box, according to Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker. Rates are still down 64 percent this year while loads to the U.S. declined 28 percent.

“This will naturally lead to higher market shares and pricing power and is positive for the container market,” Rikard Vabo, an analyst at Oslo-based investment bank Fearnley Fonds ASA said in an e-mailed note today.

Demand for cargoes to Europe from Asia will expand 3 percent next year while the fleet of container ships swells 8 percent, Clarkson estimates.

The consolidation is a sign of fleet oversupply and won’t buoy rates, Nikolaj Kamedula, an analyst at SEB Enskilda in Copenhagen, said by e-mail. It may allow owners to lower their costs and cut freight rates, he said.

“Alliances have been in existence since the 1990s and have not previously been able to control freight rates,” Kamedula said. “It does nothing to remove the overall industry overcapacity.”

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