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Another peak season runs aground as ocean carriers extract capacity


OCEAN carriers are bracing for muted demand during the usual peak shipping season heading into the fall, with supply chains still rattled by the Coved pandemic and retailers in the US and Europe reining in, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Copenhagen's SeaIntelligence Consulting says the cancellations equate to the withdrawal of more than four million TEU of capacity and that carriers have continued to drop departures scheduled for the third quarter, signaling expectations of continued weak demand by major Western importers.

"Fears of a virus resurgence means retailers will bring in only what they know they can sell," said SeaIntelligence CEO Lars Jensen. "There is a muted run-up to Black Friday in the US that kicks off the holiday shopping and we expect container volumes to be down 10 per cent overall this year. There is no peak season, just fleet management to cut costs."

The summer months are when shipping activity picks up, but widespread store closings under lockdowns have battered demand and crashed traditional planning for the fall.

The 17.7 per cent month-to-month increase in retail sales in the US in May still left overall sales below pre-pandemic levels, and the retail inventories-to-sales ratio in April soared to 1.68, the highest level since 1996 and an indication that warehouses across the country were bursting with merchandise.

In the European Union, retail trade fell 11.1 per cent in April from March, according to Eurostat. Retailers are also dealing with supply chains that have been scrambled by the virus. Some deliveries have been delayed by up to two months because factories in China and elsewhere were mostly closed in March and April.

"We've just opened after three months and we are getting deliveries of spring apparel," said Varvara Petridi, who owns two high-end fashion shops in Athens.

"We've got lots of unsold light suits and dresses, but no bathing suits, sandals and towels. They'll come in August, if we are still in business. It's a disaster."

Korea's HMM has the highest proportion of idled vessels among the carriers.

Alphaliner data showed HMM has almost 200,000 TEU currently idled, amounting to 32.9 per cent of its fleet, but this is still far below the number of Maersk and MSC idle ships.

Said Alphaliner: "2M partners Maersk and MSC account for the bulk of the inactive fleet, with a combined total of 854,000 TEU.

"However, more than half of this vessel inactivity is due to scrubber installations. MSC in particular still has a significant part of its fleet undergoing retrofit work at shipyards in China and Turkey," said Alphaliner.

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