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Hamburg Süd defies crisis

Hamburg Süd, too, was gripped by the world economic and shipping crisis. At 2.3 billion TEU, shipment volume in the liner business was 13 per cent down on the previous year and freight rates dropped significantly. Turnover consequently fell 28 per cent to 3.2 billion euros compared with 2008.

Hamburg Süd defies crisis
20 April 2010 - 11:57

Rio de la PlataAgainst the backdrop of declining shipment volume, the container pool was significantly reduced by the return of leased containers and the sale of old owned boxes. In contrast, the slot capacity of deployed vessels, at 304,000 TEU, remained roughly constant. The number of container ships, however, fell by 13 per cent to 96 units. With the replacement of smaller charter vessels by larger newbuildings, the strategy of lowering unit costs is continuing. The fleet operated by the Hamburg Süd Group, with the inclusion of 52 vessels in the tramp division, comprised 148 units, 36 of them Group-owned.

Last year saw the commissioning of a new “Monte” ship (5,500 TEU) and three “Rio” vessels (5,900 TEU), which will be deployed on the Europe and Asia to East Coast South America trade lanes together with the sister ships delivered in previous years. The programme of increasing the owned share of vessels is to be continued in the years ahead. By 2012, twelve ships with a total capacity of some 80,000 TEU will enhance the Group-owned fleet. They include ten vessels of the “Santa” class, which, with a nominal capacity of 7,100 TEU, will be the largest ships in the Hamburg Süd fleet.

In the crisis year 2009, investment volume was limited to a minimum of 167 million euros (2008: 530 million euros). For the coming three years an increase of over 700 million euros in capital expenditure on ships and containers is planned.

Despite economic pressure, any substantial reduction in staff was avoided in order to preserve employee expertise and motivation. The number of employees ashore was reduced by 14 to 3,597. At sea this figure rose by 31 to 1,194 seamen as a result of the delivery of newbuildings. Overall, employee numbers increased by 17 to 4,791.

Given the significant decline in earnings, Hamburg Süd made considerable efforts to cut costs, which amounted to approximately 300 million euros. To lower ship system costs, liner services were rationalised – largely with partners – and slow steaming programmes instituted. In the case of cargo-related costs, a wide range of individual measures were taken in the area of cargo handling, intermodal and depot costs. In this context, the lower fuel surcharges levied by the haulage contractors and rail companies we use had a positive affect. Finally, administrative expenses also had to make a contribution, though without resulting in any substantial redundancies.

The exchange rates of the currencies important to Hamburg Süd had a positive impact. In the light of a structural surplus, this applied to the stronger US dollar as well as the weaker rates of the cost currencies, like the Brazilian real and Australian dollar.

The sharp fall in bunker prices, by contrast, relieved the pressure on costs and results. Fuel expenditure fell to roughly 700 million US dollars, 400 million US dollars less than in the previous year. Of this figure, approximately three-quarters was attributable to lower bunker prices, and one quarter to reduced consumption as a result of slow steaming and the restructuring of the fleet to larger and fewer units.

Despite the comparatively positive performance of dry tramp shipping, Hamburg Süd was not able to post a positive result in 2009. Considering the historic crisis in liner shipping, however, the fact that the Group overall recorded a positive operational cash flow sufficient to cover the – albeit reduced – investment budget can be viewed as a success.

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