Have big debts dealt death blow to big data?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

17 August 2016


If as expected later today BHP Billiton, the world's biggest mining company, post a huge loss in the region of $6.5bn the groans of despair will be heard in the boardrooms of every major bulk carrier operator. When the biggest customers are feeling pain, the first thing they will look for is cost savings wherever they can be found and that does not bode well for shipowners already under the cosh themselves. It is not only bulkers that are suffering, on Monday Drewry analysts reported that container carriers are facing the loss of more than $50bn of sales in two years since 2014 and said it should be no surprise that most of the big players are losing money and that some are close to the financial abyss, or that a number of lines are merging in order to better prepare for such hard times. According to Drewry, the highpoint in revenues in recent years was 2012 when the sector as a whole recorded income of around $220bn. Since then it has declined and the full year figure for 2016 looks like coming in at around $130bn. It may be just coincidence that the decline in revenue set in with the delivery of the first of Maersk’s Triple E class and has continued as other operators have added more and bigger ships to the world box fleet. On the other hand some would say that without the economies of scale these ships offered the loss may have been bigger although that is hardly a strong argument when the ships concerned have never run with full cargoes. Drewry suggests that mergers and acquisitions may save the day but beyond scrapping vessels and refraining from new ordering, there is very little that owners can do to ease their pain which is largely a result of their own desire to maintain or grow market share. Mergers may reduce the competition but that leads to monopolies and cartels which regulators will not tolerate so there is a limit to the effectiveness now that operator numbers have been whittled down to less than half what they were at the turn of the century. What is interesting in this time of mounting losses is that mention of ‘big data’ seems to have disappeared from the shipping headlines. It has probably not gone away entirely and at SMM in a few weeks’ time, digitisation will be one of the main themes of the show. With so much technology on display it will be interesting to see what attitudes owners adopt to new concepts. Will they be looking more at cost saving measures and efficiency gains they can see for themselves or will they be looking to employ consultants to analyse big data for them with no guarantees of improved performance.