Captain Jeff's Predictions for 2023
Let's kick this off with a disclaimer: if I could tell the future, I would be sipping a piña colada on my luxurious yacht in the Caribbean right now. Alas, I have to rely on trends, data, and experience instead of a crystal ball. Here's five things I think we'll see (or continue to see) in 2023:
Container Rates Will Stabilize: Per the Drewry Container Index, the worldwide average of container rates have dropped to around $2,000 per FEU. Some route rates are higher on US East Coast and West Coast traffic. The rates will likely stabilize near where they are for now with a possible additional decrease on particular routes and the overall world index. Rate decreases appear to be driven by flagging demand and over supply of container slots on ships. The supply abundance may lead to some layup of ships in the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2023.
Securing Empties Will Continue to be a Challenge: Empties are slowly disappearing from ports as some are being redeployed for traditional agri-products in the American midwest and many going straight back to Asia.
The Supply Chain will Remain Fragile: It looks to me like the pressure caused by volumes will ease and policy makers will assume that the supply chain problems have been "fixed." The reality is that the supply chain will remain fragile until there is a U.S. National Comprehensive Transportation Policy. Until then, we'll continue to see supply chain pressures push the system out of orbit.
Port Terminal Consolidation will Continue: The largest and most capitalized terminal operators will continue to buy into terminals in various key nations worldwide, giving them a decided advantage in the control of the worldwide supply chain. China continues to purchase more stakes in ports throughout the world, and their share of the container trade will increase with their consolidated container ocean carrier (COSCO Shipping).
Mid-size Container Vessels Will Become More Popular: By the end of the year, we will get a sense of how the container vessel fleets will be redeployed as part of an international hub and spoke emergence. We will see an increased focus on more moderately-sized vessels: in the 10,000- to 16,000-TEU range. Larger ships will finally begin to focus operations on the pendulum services between Asia and Europe. Midsize ports in the Western Hemisphere will see new opportunities with the mid-size and smaller vessels seeking new ports of calls. The number of ports in each North American cycle will increase and additional nimbler and smaller carriers with sub-Panamax vessels will emerge with partnerships with larger carriers giving them worldwide reach.
There's lots more going on in the industry than just the items above: larger cruise ships with more glitz, expanding river cruises in the U.S., ocean carrier mergers, rail congestion easing off, trucking increasing but driver shortages continuing, personnel shortages in all sectors of the industry, labor unrest, and much more. If you would like to hear about all of it, join us for one of our Maritime Port Executive (MPE) courses - we cover all of the above and myriad other topic areas with our comprehensive training. With 6 academic institution endorsements and nearly 30 education (port) and industry association partners, as well as over 2,600 alumni, IAMPE offers high quality, internationally-recognized port professional programming for professionals at any stage in their career. Check us out at iampe.org
To all of you in the industry, all of us here at the IAMPE send our warmest regards and best wishes for a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous New Year. Thank you for a great 2022!