Over the Top

“As the global cargo industry starts its slow pull out of the deepest recession in generations …”

“And if there was one word to sum up the mood among conference attendees and speakers … that word was optimism. It’s a sentiment that many industry leaders, battered by the economic slump, see as essential to recovery.”

“The key is optimism … Hope fosters optimism,” someone said. They’re daydreaming. The senior VP for a regional Federal Reserve Bank, in attendance at the Southeast Freight Conference, even had the gall to say, “As I stand here today I’m going to make the bold statement that the recession is over.”

What this fellow didn’t know was that at that very moment the three major Japanese shipping companies – NYK, Mitsui ISK Lines and K Line – were all revealing large losses in the first semester of 2009. K Line, which lost 6% of its volumes between Europe and the Far East, recorded the largest loss – $ 479 million.

NYK, which generated twice the turnover of K Line, lost $ 325 million in the period, and will now add 300 units of its operational fleet to the hundreds of vessels deteriorating in graveyards like Subic bay, Singapore and Rotterdam.

MOL lost a modest $ 108 million.

Is this an indication that the industry is starting to “pull out of the deepest recession in generations”?

Do these cargo losses support that lame-brained statement by the Fed’s regional VP?

The global cargo industry is far-reaching. It includes more than just the vessels at sea. Even the venerable Hamburg Port Authority is facing serious financial difficulties. Impossible, you say. It can’t happen. The Port of Hamburg has always been the shipping hub of central Europe.

This year, the port will lose a staggering EUR 200 million and if the government does not bail the port out, the HPA will have to declare bankruptcy. All this was unthinkable just a few months ago. The Port of Hamburg? Bankrupt? And we’re supposed to buy that line about a recovery?

Officials who throw around terms like “recovery”, “green shoots”, “bottoming out”, and “recovery without jobs”, are talking through their hats. None of them have the vaguest idea of how to end this recession. For them,“buying power” has no meaning. They don’t seem to understand that until jobs are created, especially for U.S. consumers, overseas production of consumer goods will be shut down, container ports will stagnate, and more and more vessels will be laid to rest. Permanently.

There’s just one way to create 30 million jobs – in a hurry. “He who builds ships builds worlds.”