The shipping industry is an important industry, though not one that is necessarily easy to make money in. In fact, some experts have said that the shipping industry may have to shed assets if it is to survive. The recent financial crisis has hit the shipping industry hard, and after investing heavily during the good years, many people are now left with large debts. The industry has also failed to capitalize on the fall in oil prices. Many goods are transported by ship, and currently there are roughly 6,000 liner ships carrying mountains of goods around the world. These huge ships can be up to 1,300 feet long, and they are able to carry large containers to permit easy movement of goods between ships, trains, and trucks.
It might seem that large tankers would benefit from being able to move such vast amounts of goods, but in recent years, the price of moving raw materials by sea has fallen to an all-time low. Containers have also become increasingly cheaper, which is good for end users but not so good for the carriers. Many companies have been struggling, with 2014 seeing a number of companies, including the Danish shipping company Copenship, filing for bankruptcy. Demand is slowly recovering, but demand can be very variable from route to route and from year to year. Investment is down in the shipping industry, and many shipping companies will have to shed assets to stay in business. Cutting back to their core activities could help them stay afloat in these difficult times. Many are shedding port assets and trying to become more efficient in their data management.
A shipping agency can handle the shipments and cargos in the ports and harbors, leaving the shipping company free to concentrate on its core business. A shipping agent that is able to reduce the time spent in port will save a shipping company money. Maersk is one of the few shipping companies to heavily invest in new ships. There may be too much shipping capacity in the industry as a whole, but large container ships make sense if the company can fill them. New technologies can also help. Improving hull and propeller design can reduce fuel usage as well as environmental impact.
The shipping industry needs investment, and traditionally it is an industry that needs large cash flows to operate. In the past, this money came from the banking sector, but with the financial crisis, alternative forms of finance were useful to those who had no other options. Bank financing was attractive because there were few strings attached, but new partnerships were being forged between shipping people and financially interested partners. In recent years, it has not been the big European banks that have provided the finance for the shipping industry; European banks were too concerned with the existing loans and bad debts. It was funding from countries in the East, such as China, that provided the finance. Private equity firms may also be a good source of finance for some shipping companies.