Slow boxship recovery raises questions
Questions over the sustainability of the boxship market recovery and the future of bank finance dominated the conversation at TradeWinds’ inaugural Shipowners’ Forum in Hamburg.
The owners' panel included Atlantic Lloyd managing director Nicolaus Bunnemann, Borealis Maritime chief executive Christoph Toepfer, Hapag-Lloyd chief operating officer Anthony Firmin, John Freydag, managing director of chartering for Bernhard Schulte and Howe Robinson managing director George Hulse. The session was moderated by TradeWinds editor-in-chief Julian Bray.
Despite the slight uptick in charter rates for some classes of containerships, panellists were cautious about the outlook.
Heavy debts that continue to overhang many German shipowners will remain a burden unless they and their financiers face up to the need for restructuring and the creative use of their professional skills. Howe Robinson managing director George Hulse said bluntly: “The market does not currently offer the chance of a sustainable recovery.” Ernst Russ chief executive Jens Mahnke and ER Schiffahrt counterpart Nils Aden both reflected on the journey their outfits had taken in recent years to exploit their professional skills and promote them to a wider target market. The loss of Hamburg Sud to a $4bn takeover from Danish rival AP Moller-Maersk had been a blow, admitted Hapag-Lloyd chief operating officer Anthony Firmin. It impacted not only his company, which had also eyed a deal but the city of Hamburg itself.
The loss of skills and management knowledge would be hard to replace, he asserted. Shrinkage of the shipping loan portfolios of German banks would continue to accelerate, Berenberg Bank’s head of shipping, Philipp Wunschmann, said.
However, the restructuring process would offer its own chances to expand for those institutions with adequate capital, he added.
TradeWinds Shipowners Forum was sponsored by DNVGL, Pictet, Nautisk, SMM, IRI / The Marshall Islands, ABS, ShipParts.com and The Baltic Exchange. Hamburg’s major biennial trade fair SMM will host the next TradeWinds Shipowners’ Forum on 4 September 2018.