The global pool of shipping containers increased by 13% to almost 50 million TEU in 2021, which was three times prior growth trend, according to maritime research consultancy Drewry.
Drewry’s recently published Container Census & Leasing Annual Review & Forecast 2022/23 report says that this reflected lessors and ocean carriers ordering a record number of containers, while retiring fewer ageing units, as congestion across global supply chains meant containers were an estimated 15% to 20% less productive than in pre-Covid period. Drewry estimates that each container averaged 18.1 lifts in 2021 compared with 19.2 in 2020 and between 19.5 and 20.6 in the 2010s. Furthermore, Drewry noted that the number of containers per slot of vessel capacity increased by 8% in 2020 when the pandemic started and remained at this level throughout 2021.
Moreover, Drewry estimates that as many as 6 million TEU of surplus boxes now exist in the global equipment pool. While large by historic standards, Drewry considers this surplus to be manageable for the industry.
"The delivery schedule of new ships is very strong with slot capacity expected to increase by 3.6 million TEU in 2023 and by over 3.9 million TEU in 2024," pointed out Drewry’s head of container equipment research, John Fossey.
Fossey went on to explain, "With new IMO emissions regulations coming into force in January 2023 forcing some ships to sail slower, much of the surplus equipment currently in service is expected to be absorbed. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that some carriers are planning to have more buffer stock in their equipment pools, while fewer new containers will be built in the next two years."
Drewry forecasts that output in 2022 and 2023 will be much lower than last year, at 3.9 million TEU and 2.4 million TEU respectively, with replacement accounting for most of the orders.
While newbuild and second-hand prices will fall, a return to the very low prices of 2019 is not anticipated as manufacturers are expected to manage their capacity and pricing strategies very carefully, according to Drewry.
Meanwhile, the secondary market remains robust and the uses to which ex-trading containers can be put to use continue to expand.
"Looking ahead, ocean carriers will be the main buyers of equipment over the next two years with lessors then taking control again, raising their share of the pool to 54% by 2026," claimed Fossey, who added that per diem rates and investment cash returns will generally be higher over the forecast period than in the past five years.