Fascinating Shipping Trends Have Surfaced

Mar.12.10 | About: Guggenheim Shipping (SEA)

Exporters are having a difficult time securing shipping from U.S. ports. I find interesting the "stickiness" in the ability of shipping companies to adapt.

Note the export / import chart above. It shows exports have rebounded far more quickly than exports, which is excellent. However, a good chunk of that is commodity prices, specifically oil-- not just stronger exports.

Via WSJ:

...The U.S. finally is enjoying some strength in exports, thanks to economic recovery in Asia and a generally weak dollar. But just as U.S. goods find demand abroad, there's a problem getting them there.

It's the opposite of what one might expect. Carriers have a surplus of ships. And since the U.S. still imports more than it exports, freighters arrive in America looking for export cargo to take back, so they don't have to go home empty.

Yet American producers of everything from hazelnuts to cardboard are complaining they can't get their goods shipped in timely fashion...

...The bottlenecks are among the many challenges to President Barack Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years, a hope he detailed in a speech Thursday.

The constraints arise from the unusual economics of transport businesses such as ports and container shipping. U.S. ports, thanks to the huge appetite Americans have developed for goods made abroad, are oriented more to the import than the export trade. So are the big foreign ship companies, which gear their schedules and their routes to American imports, not to exports.

The ship glut, instead of providing more vessels, perversely is helping make fewer available. That's because the glut, in combination with a fall in trade during the recession, cut shipping rates below the cost of operation for some routes. Carriers responded by idling many ships and reducing their trips to the U.S., to save money and try to force shipping rates higher.

Rates on container ships tumbled nearly 50% last year. The carriers lost $20 billion, according to the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement, a consortium of major shipping lines...

...Carriers also have been idling ships. Last year—even as new vessels ordered in good times kept arriving from shipyards—the industry idled 11% of its fleet capacity, some 500 vessels.

Disclosure: No positions