What Happens After the Container Shipping Crisis?

Until 1978, dozens of airlines flew the U.S. skies. Then, with the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act, competition increased and profits became scarce. Decades of consolidation followed, as Allegheny, Eastern, Frontier, Ozark, Pan Am, and many other venerable names were merged out of existence or went bust. When the turbulence finally subsided, four giant carriers—American, Delta, Southwest, and United—controlled 70 percent of U.S. domestic passenger traffic and, through agreements with foreign carriers to share services, dominated international routes as well. Such measures have enabled the airline industry to rake in profits as never before.

Something similar is now going on in the world of container shipping. Excess capacity and slow-growing demand are forcing down the price of shipping, driving companies deeply into the red and bringing a wave of bankruptcies, mergers, and joint ventures. The August bankruptcy of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping, the world’s seventh-largest container carrier, and the announcement, in September, of the restructuring of A.P. Moeller-Maersk, by far the world’s largest, are signs of a consolidation process that still has far to go. And although the industry is likely to remain troubled in the short term, in the long term, today’s troubles will lead to less competition among those carriers adept enough to survive. That in turn will mean higher rates for shippers, increasing the cost of moving goods around the world.

I’ve recently written an article laying out why I think this will occur. You can find the full text over at ForeignAffairs.com.

One thought on “What Happens After the Container Shipping Crisis?

  1. Patricia Biswanger

    I’m not an economist, but I am buying your book “The Box”. My father was a draftsman at Strick Trailer in the 1960s, and though I was just a kid (he died in 1968, when I was 12), I remember him bringing home a toy for us kids, a model of a cargo ship with Strick shipping containers on top. I’d like to learn more about that time, and, I hope, validate some of my memories.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.