From a $23bn loss to a $14bn profit: liners’ topsy-turvy pandemic year

Container shipping has gone from doomsday to payday in the space of a few months. Sea-Intelligence has revised for the fourth time this year its EBIT profit forecast for the liner industry as carrier results for Q3 trickle in.

Having initially predicted significant red ink for the container shipping pack at the start of the pandemic in April, the Danish consultancy is now forecasting the liner industry will chalk up a $14bn profit this year, marking one of the greatest turnaround in fortunes in the 64-year history of containerisation.

Back in April, when many countries entered lockdown Sea-Intelligence’s worst case scenario was for liners to register a combined $23bn loss.

In fairness to the consultancy, most business sectors – not just shipping – have failed to get profit projections correct during the pandemic. Splash readers in Q2 also suggested the container sector would be hit the hardest of all shipping segments from the effects of Covid-19. It has since turned out that container shipping will be, by some distance, the best performing shipping sector in 2020.

“[I]t is doubtless that the carrier results for 2020 will far exceed not only last year, but the past 8 years.,” Sea-Intelligence noted in its most recent weekly report. The record likely exceeds results going even further back, but many carriers were not good at disclosing much data pertaining to their financial performance in the past.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. So the pollsters and commentators called this wrongly! (again) There seems to be an excessive focus on minute by minute developments rather than a more reasoned medium term view.

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