Missing The Boat
In the Feb. 28th Singapore BUSINESS TIMES, the headlines read as follows:
“US ports issue: The ship’s already sailed”
“Stevedoring business shifted to foreigners decades ago as US firms shunned it.”
“(HOUSTON) In the outcry over who should be running America’s seaport terminals, one clear trend appears to have been overlooked: American companies began withdrawing decades ago from the unglamorous business of stevedoring, ceding the now-booming industry to enterprises in Asia and the Middle East.
“So it is no accident that American companies are not in the top ranks of global terminal operators, who have ridden the coat-tails of the explosion in world trade. The shift has transferred growing financial clout to a handful of seafaring centres in Hong Kong, Singapore and now the emirate of Dubai.
“Indeed, the takeover of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company of Britain came down to a battle between two foreign, state-backed companies. One of them, DP World, is owned by Dubai’s royal Maktoum family. The other is Singapore’s PSA, the world’s second largest port operator.
“The acquisition price also reflects the advantage that a number of the fastest-growing companies enjoy — their governments’ deep pockets. DP World paid about 20 per cent more than analysts thought the company was worth. Publicly traded companies that were potential bidders were scared off long before DP World’s final offer…
“‘Certain port operations in certain locations recognized the potential years ago, and embarked upon acquisitions,’ said Neil Davidson, a container ports analyst at Drewry Shipping Consultants in London. When approached, ‘P&O had an obligation to their shareholders’, he said. ‘An offer came which was too attractive to turn down.’…
“God knows how you’d reverse it,’ said one London-based executive involved in the sale. ‘British regulators have approved the deal, and shareholders have already voted for it,’ he said …
“The opportunities for well-run foreign terminal operators to grow in the US are clear. American ports are considered somewhat backward by shipping experts outside of the country …
“Port authorities in recent years have come to rely much more on foreign terminal operators to help finance land acquisitions, dredging and other improvements, a development that has worried some advocates for American ports, particularly those ports that rely on some kind of public subsidy to survive.”
Let’s take a closer look at this critique.
1. “US ports issue. The ship’s already sailed.”
2. “Publicly traded companies that were potential bidders were scared off long before DP World’s final offer.”
3. “Certain port operations in certain locations recognized the potential years ago, and embarked upon acquisitions.”
4. “The opportunities for well-run foreign terminal operators to grow in the US are clear.”
5. “American ports are considered somewhat backward by shipping experts outside of the country.”
6. Port authorities in recent years have come to rely much more on foreign terminal operators to help finance … particularly those ports that rely upon some kind of public subsidy to survive.”
[This report from Singapore sounds more like an indictment rather than a critique.]
Number 1 … is just another way of saying that we missed the boat. We were left standing at the pier. The inference, of course, is that there’s no way the U.S. can catch up because of the head start granted to foreign maritime interests. That’s entirely true as long as U.S. port authorities cling stubbornly to their primitive methods of operation and continue to ignore the patented systems that we’ve made available. There’s no other way the U.S. can close the gap.
Number 2 … Our efficient and highly profitable systems would have made it possible for U.S. maritime interests to be in a position to bid for, and acquire, companies like P&O ports.
Number 3 … shows how efficient those guys are.
Number 4 … shows how inefficient us guys are.
Number 5 … American ports are considered somewhat backward by shipping experts inside of the country, as well.
Number 6 … The backward, primitive methods of operation in U.S. container terminals have been recognized and criticized by maritime authorities everywhere. We should be embarrassed by it.
But the uproar over the “Arab takeover”… does that make any sense? Did we admit our mistakes? The headline in the BUSINESS TIMES of Feb. 27th says otherwise: “US outcry reeks of hypocrisy”.
[We just don’t get it.]