Strategies seen to suffer if carriers do not reveal performance

The return on assets within a supply chain will become more distorted if shipping lines do not clearly reveal their financial performances, according to an analyst.

Charles de Trenck, vice-president of Salomon Smith Barney, said carriers with multiple operations could easily hide their financial performance.

'The more the hard financial data at the container-shipping division level is covered up, the less management teams can delineate the stronger parts of the business from the weaker parts,' he said.

He told delegates attending a shipping conference last week that this would work against the marketing staff, who could become misguided in their cargo generation strategies.

If an analyst could not separate the relevant information from the irrelevant information, he would be unable accurately to forecast the strength or weakness of a company, Mr de Trenck said.

The problem was compounded by the lack of industry standardisation in many areas, including container boxes, he said.

Containers come in different sizes - teu (20-foot equivalent unit), feu (40 ft equivalent unit) and 45 ft boxes.

While the industry treated anything over 40 ft as two teu, this information did not accurately reflect the situation and distorted data used for analysis, Mr de Trenck said.

He said carriers should be more transparent and more forthcoming with basic data at least.

Sometimes it took a great deal of effort for an analyst to obtain just basic facts from certain shipping companies, he added.

Carriers, terminals and container lessors treated containers differently, sometimes even within the same company, Mr de Trenck said.

Asian ports imposed complex port charges, which differed from one port to another, and the charges were sometimes in local currency and at other times in foreign currency, he said.

Charges also differed between the different trade lanes such as transpacific and intra-Asia routes, he added.

Mr de Trenck said shipping lines did not explain the terminal handling charges (THCs) and it was not known to what extent THCs could be manipulated to become a profit centre.

All these factors had to be integrated so that, at the end of the day, one could look at the return per teu, he said.

Maersk managing director Ulrik Brandt, commenting on Mr de Trenck's speech, said it was a very narrow approach to look at returns on teu.

For example, Maersk Line and subsidiary Mercantile made money through various activities, such as logistics, trucking, consolidation and supply-chain management, he said.

Mr Brandt said Maersk gave out information quarterly that showed how the company operated, in accordance with legal requirements.

As far as the company was concerned, it would go wherever it could get a good return, he said.

'Then it is up to us how much [information] we want to reveal to attract cheaper capital compared with other companies,' Mr Brandt said.