Cheaper bunker makes scrubbers king and leaves blends, LNG behind

LOWER fuel costs have given ocean carriers a break with a 3

02 December 2019 - 19:00

LOWER fuel costs have given ocean carriers a break with a 3.6 per cent improvement in operating profits in the third quarter, reported London's Loadstar.

This compares with just 0.6 per cent in Q3 last year and is despite a 1.8 per cent decline in freight rates.

According to Alphaliner, the third quarter market leader was Hapag-Lloyd, with an operating margin of 7.8 per cent, followed by Maersk, at 7.3 per cent.

Dragging down the average for the carriers that publish their results was Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM), with a negative operating margin of -5.7 per cent, extending the South Korean line's loss-making performance to 18 consecutive quarters.

HMM was the only carrier to post a negative operating result in the quarter; the next-worst performance was by Taiwanese container line Yang Ming with a two per cent operating margin.

Third quarter bunker costs averaged US$348 per ton, 19 per cent below the $430 per ton recorded the previous year. This operating cost windfall more than mitigated the impact of the freight rate erosion during the period, as the peak season proved to be a damp squib, obliging carriers to offer discounts to fill their ships.

Alphaliner noted that the price of HFO (heavy fuel oil) had subsequently fallen to about $250 per ton, which it said would provide carriers 'with some buffer' in the fourth quarter, ahead of the IMO 2020 regulations coming into force in January, which will force ships (not fitted with scrubbers or running on LNG) to consume LSFO (low-sulphur fuel oil), at double the price.

It has been calculated, based on the current spread, that burning LSFO will add some $2 million to the round-trip voyage expenses of an Asia-North Europe loop vessel not fitted with a scrubber system.

In order to adequately compensate carriers for spot business, which on some routes now accounts for 60 per cent of the cargo loaded, the lines will levy surcharges from December 1, which typically will add $135 per TEU to an Asia to North Europe shipment and $95 per TEU to a load from Asia to the US west coast.

In terms of average rates for the quarter, Hapag-Lloyd was again at the top of the tree with an average rate per TEU of $1,084, up 2.7 per cent on the third quarter last year, taking over CMA CGM's top-ranked status, as the latter saw its average rate drop 7.6 per cent, to $1,065 per TEU, as it opted for a growth strategy.

Maersk recorded a 3.6 per cent fall in its average rate, to $930 per TEU. Maersk CEO Soren Skou said third quarter business grew on intra-Asia backhaul where freight rates are usually lower.

This is in contrast to Hapag-Lloyd, which took the decision to reduce its exposure on the intra-Asia market by cutting uneconomic services.


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