Huge container excess a possibility in 2023; report

Because the Covid-19 pandemic led to significant supply chain disruption and an increase in the demand for goods over services, for two years there has been a shortage of containers in the right place at the right time.

Danish maritime data analysis company Sea-Intelligence has noted that when supply chains resume a smoother and more normal process, the number of containers required to expedite that system will decline. The company examined data provided by Hapag-Lloyd and matched the volume of cargo transported and the equipment fleet over a longer period. (Disclaimer, Sea-Intelligence has taken Hapag-Lloyd’s operational performance in relation to their equipment as a proxy for the entire market.)

The conclusion was that 2023 could see a global market excess of 13m teus.

From 2010 to 2014 the effectiveness of the equipment fleet was relatively stable at 1.3 loads per container per quarter. However, this was followed by high volatility during the years 2014 to 2017, before stabilizing again at an average of 1.18 full loads per container for 2018 and 2019.

In 2020-2022 the effectiveness decreased significantly, falling to 0.95 loads per container during Q4 2021, before improving slightly to 0.98 during Q1 2022. Sea-Intelligence noted that Hapag-Lloyd needed an equipment fleet of just over 3m teu to move their cargo. However, were the supply chain bottlenecks to be removed now, Hapag-Lloyd would need 17% fewer containers in their equipment fleet. Extrapolated through to the global market, the global container fleet reached 50m teu in 2021. If 17% of this were to become redundant, then 8.5m teu would be surplus to requirements.

Accommodating for the 4.5m to 4.8m additional teu to be delivered in 2022, and this gave Sea-Intelligence the number of 13m teu of excess containers in 2023.