Shifting the centre of gravity
The global focus of wealth is moving east
It can be said that the centre of gravity for shipping has been in Europe for at least the last two centuries. All the great fleets came out of Europe to conquer the world. This extended to the commercial world as well with the liner and bulk carrier fleets primarily under European ownership.
We saw a change in strategy with the flagging of ships as owners chased lower costs, but the domicile of the owners changed little. Then came containerisation out of the US but taken up in earnest by Europe.
A similar situation is true of the tanker industry. Today, some 44% of the existing capacity of containerships and ships on order are under the control of European carriers with nearly 50% of the ships actually owned by Europe based companies.
Terminal operators were once also primarily European, with P&O Ports (now part of DP World), ECT, HHLA, APM Terminals, Eurogate, Terminal Link and others.
Yet times are a changing; the centre of gravity is shifting east to Asia. There appears to be no lack of interest in investing in shipping assets and terminal operations with Chinese interests playing a dominant role. Far East carriers control nearly a third of the global fleet plus orderbook, and of the ten major global terminal operators, half are Asian companies. Speculative vessel owners are also becoming more prominent in Asia as funds dry up in Europe.
Cargo origin and destination for liner goods has also been shifting to Asia.
According to the Container Trades Statistics, in 2011, of the nearly 125m teu of imports and exports globally, the Far East accounted for 44m of the exports and 21m of the imports. Europe was 16m and 21.5m correspondingly and North America had 14.2m of exports and 20.3m of imports.
With more and more ports being developed in Asia we shall see the continuing shift of this centre of gravity as the global focus of wealth moves east with greater investment opportunities than the west can provide.
The shift of shipbuilding and terminal equipment has already made the move, more will follow.
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