“Neither doom nor bloom”
Insights from Hapag-Lloyd’s CEO at 45th anniversary of Propeller Club, Port of Basel. The 45th anniversary of the Propeller Club in Basel saw Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd, underline the fact that looking into the future requires some knowledge of the origins. His remarks made it clear that improvements are coming, but that there’s simultaneously still no recovery in sight for the overall maritime shipping market. This didn’t detract from the good mood in Basel.
Part of the volatility of ocean shipping is down to the forgetfulness of the industry’s players. Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd since 2014 and the keynote speaker at the 45th anniversary celebration of the Propeller Club, Port of Basel, pointed out some milestones of recent years. While the major carriers’ focus was on consolidation until 2017, the end seemed to be truly nigh for some market participants in 2019.
“On the other hand,” Habben Jansen continued, “not one expert saw the boom we experienced in 2020 coming. It’s not so easy to foresee the future properly.”
Sudden changes between euphoria and depression in maritime shipping, between bloom and doom, was the subject of specific criticism from the CEO. “It’s really remarkable how surprised many players are by developments.”
It’s practically inevitable, for example, Habben Jansen said, that enormous government spending in a crisis will be followed by inflation, and that excessive consumer demand has to be followed by cooling.
It is nevertheless difficult to escape the dynamics of the market. Habben Jansen said that “in 2022, at the height of the boom, we decided to freeze our rates.” The result was 1.5 million bookings a day, instead of the usual 75,000. “After three days, in the face of a complete run on our offers, we had to revise our rates upwards again after all.”
The short-term trends of the future
Hapag-Lloyd and Habben Jansen consider three developments to be relatively certain. Initially, weakened demand from the USA and the EU is expected to continue until 2025. In addition, although some growth in volumes can be expected in the next twelve months, “this can’t yet be called a fundamental market recovery,” in view of the recent exaggerated market slump. Individual regions, such as Latin America, for example, are likely to develop at an above-average rate.
The usual exaggerations can be seen in the industry’s orders for newbuildings. “The industry has invested too much,” according to Habben Jansen. There is some learning effect, however. The new orders placed in 2009 amounted to roughly 55% of the world fleet. Currently it stands at 27% – “which is nevertheless still far too high.” If heads stay cool, however, then the industry’s medium-term prospects are positive.
The 150 or so participants who attended the meeting in Basel were happy to hear the message. The celebration of the Propeller Club, Port of Basel’s 45th anniversary was attended by managers from the industry from every corner of Switzerland, including from the Suisse Romande. It was a lavish do – thanks to the bright summer day, a good atmosphere and ambience in Basel’s Merian Gardens and excellent physical and mental sustenance. Here’s to the next 45 years of the Propeller Club, Port of Basel!