The period from mid-2020 to the fourth quarter of 2022 was a high-water mark for the container shipping industry, and with it came unprecedented turmoil, disruption, and prosperity. That period was, above all, a period of extremes: extreme rate rises, extreme container and labor shortages, extreme delays, extreme congestion, and extreme chaos for exporters and importers alike.
For container ship operators themselves, it was an era of extreme revenues and extreme earnings. Thanks to those earnings, the container shipping industry, long known for its cyclical swings and volatile and precarious returns, is enjoying unaccustomed financial stability and with it, the luxury of choosing among a broad range of strategic options.
Of course, every high tide eventually recedes. In this case, the tide turned in the fourth quarter of 2022, when both consumer demand and industrial demand plunged precipitously just as significant new shipping capacity was beginning to come online.
Rates plummeted, touching levels unseen since the early days of the pandemic, though still well above all-time lows. Since then, container capacity and cargo volumes have regained a semblance of equilibrium, and service levels have climbed out of the depths, leaving industry stakeholders to reckon up their gains and losses, assess their competitive positions, and plot their future courses.
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