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Mergers and alliances shake up container carrier rankings

Mergers and acquisitions and soon-to-launch alliances are changing the rankings of the JOC Top 40 Container Carriers in U.S. containerized trade. Volume increased 2.7 percent year-over-year to 23.7 million 20-foot-equivalent units in the first nine months of 2014, with Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co. accounting for 21.4 percent of total trade. The two partners in the 2M Alliance, scheduled to launch in January, had combined U.S. exports totaling nearly 2.2 million TEUs, or 22.9 percent of the market, while their 2.9 million TEUs in U.S. imports gave them a combined 20.4 percent market share.
MSC and Maersk sit in the top 2 spots of the JOC Top 40 Container Carriers rankings with MSC in first place, holding 12.8 percent share in U.S. exports and 10.5 percent share in U.S. imports through September. Maersk follows with a 10.1 percent share in U.S. exports and 9.9 percent share in U.S. imports through September. In total U.S. trade, MSC garnered an 11.4 percent share and Maersk controlled 9.9 percent through September. The two carriers operating in the U.S. trades increased their volumes by 5.9 percent year-over-year — more than twice the rate of the industry as a whole — to 5.1 million TEUs.
Members of the pending Ocean Three Alliance — CMA CGM, China Shipping and United Arab Shipping Co. — ranked fourth, 18th and 21st in U.S. exports, respectively, and sixth, 15th and 18th in U.S. imports for the nine-month period. Altogether, their volume through September was nearly 2.5 million TEUs and 10.4 percent of the total trade, positioning the O3 between the individual volumes of MSC and Maersk.
Here are three other things we can glean from the data through September and events that will shape the rankings in the future:
Q. What about mergers and acquisitions in the container carrier landscape?
Hapag-Lloyd’s merger with CSAV received approval from competition authorities on Dec. 1. The combined carrier ranked third in U.S. exports through September, with a 7.6 percent market share and 2.1 percent year-over-year growth, and the No. 4 spot in U.S. imports with a 7.1 percent share and 15 percent year-over-year growth, according to PIERS, the data division of JOC Group.
In October, Brazilian orange juice producer Cutrale Group and investment firm Safra Group acquired Chiquita Brands International, the fruit and vegetables company that owns Great White Fleet. The unsolicited deal came after Chiquita’s board of directors rejected a stock-for-stock merger with Dublin, Ireland-based Fyffes, which owns seasonal carrier Agriex. Great White ranked 25th in U.S. exports and 20th in U.S. imports in the first nine months of the year, while Agriex ranked 37th in U.S. imports. 
In September, Saltchuk Resources closed on its acquisition of Tropical Shipping/Thompson Line, which operates in the U.S.-Caribbean trade, adding to the former’s shipping portfolio that includes Totem Ocean Trailer Express serving the U.S.-Alaska trade, and Sea Star Line, operating between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Tropical and Thompson will remain separate brands and will operate as sister companies to Sea Star. The three brands ranked ranked 19th in U.S. exports and 27th in U.S. imports through September.
In late August, Russia-based Baltic Reefers acquired NYKCool from NYK Reefers. The name has changed to Cool Carriers AB, and its 25-vessel fleet will remain independent and based in Stockholm. After ranking 40th among U.S. import carriers in the first half of the year, Cool Carriers didn’t make the rankings through September.
Germany’s Hamburg Sud is scheduled to acquire the container operations of Chilean carrier CCNI on Dec. 31, and Matson is scheduled to acquire Horizon Lines, including its Alaska operations, in 2015 upon the completion of the sale of Horizon’s Hawaii operations to Pasha Group. Separately, Horizon Lines will terminate its Puerto Rico liner operations by year-end.
Q: How big was U.S. trade in the first nine months of 2014?
U.S. imports increased 5.4 percent to 14.3 million TEUs, and represented 60.3 percent of total U.S. trade. Volume at 16 of the JOC Top 40 Import carriers declined year-over-year. U.S. exports totaled 9.4 million TEUs, down 1.1 percent year-over-year. Individual carrier results were mixed, with year-over-year declines at 22 of the JOC Top 40 Export carriers.
Q: How big is the global container fleet?
As of Dec. 1, research analyst Alphaliner calculated active global capacity at 18.8 million TEUs on 5,978 ships, including 18.3 million TEUs of capacity on 5,034 fully cellular ships. Year-over-year, that’s 5.9 percent, or more than a million TEUs, of additional liner capacity, while netting 35 more ships in the fleet. Since early September, active liner capacity has grown another 1.3 percent, or nearly 250,000 TEUs, while netting 18 more ships in the fleet.  JOC

Contact Marsha Salisbury at and follow her on Twitter: @MarshSalisbury.

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