The current container market downturn is forcing some independent shipowners to either reduce charter rates to help save ailing carriers or opt for idling, selling or scrapping their vessels, according to shipping consultancy Drewry.
Much of the focus on the recent slump in the container shipping market has been on the bottom lines of the operators moving cargo on the water, with ever-diminishing profits, that have now almost universally turned to losses, being the driver of a new round of M&A and alliance forming.
However, Drewry said that less is known about the financial health of the roughly other half of ship owners who charter their assets out. This is mainly because very few non-operating owners make their financials available to the public and, with some notable exceptions; they tend to prefer to stay in the background.
The available annual results for 2015 of some of the leading independent owners show that last year was generally still a profitable one, but the financial pressures are building up.
Firstly, charter rates are plummeting as demand for their assets fall and secondly, the risk of charter renegotiations is increasing as the financial health of their clients worsens.
A problem for independent owners is that they tend to own a greater share of the smaller size ships, which are slowly becoming less attractive due to the cascade of larger and more fuel efficient ships into new trades, according to Drewry.
Even when the ownership of size classes is more equal, such as with the 4,000-5,000 teu Panamaxes, carriers inevitably look to off-hire chartered tonnage before their own, which is why independent owners have shouldered a far greater share of the idle fleet burden.
The expansion of the Panama Canal will add more Panamaxes to the idle fleet as carrier’s upsize services, most of which are expected to be owned by independents.
There can be no doubt that this will be a challenging year for all types of owners of containerships, Drewry said.