World-Watching: Container Shipping Financial Insight, Nov. 2023

[from Drewry Shipping Consultants]

Driven by weak 3Q23 financial results, the Drewry Container Equity Index decreased 3.7% last month (as of 22 Nov 2023). Additionally, asset prices continue to fall due to the supply-demand imbalance.

  • Container shipping companies’ 3Q23 financial results showcased a sharp dip in profits or even losses. On a group level, eleven liners (which report quarterly results) among our portfolio of 13 companies reported an average slump of 54.6% YoY in their 3Q23 topline. Operating costs declined 18.1% YoY amid falling chartering costs and lowering bunker prices. However, the cost reduction was insufficient to offset the plunge in topline; thus, EBIT contracted 94.1% YoY on average.
  • The Drewry Container Equity Index tumbled 28.1% YTD 2023 (ending 22 November), driven by lowering freight rates (WCI: -30.7% in YTD 2023), which squeezed earnings over the quarters. On the contrary, the S&P 500 posted an 18.4% growth. The Drewry Container Equity Index declined 3.4% in the month ending 22 November 2023. Talking about equity prices individually, APMM’s stock price fell 9.0% amid EBIT loss for its Ocean segment in 3Q23, staff cuts and reduced capex guidance, highlighting APMM’s efforts toward reducing costs faced with the bleak industry outlook. Hapag-Lloyd’s stock price slumped 22.2% as its EBIT margin (3Q23: 5.1%) slid below its pre-pandemic level (3Q19: 7.8%). ZIM became the first carrier to report impairment of assets worth USD 2.0bn in 3Q23, and its stock price fell 18.1%. Meanwhile, China-exposed container companies benefitted from the positive sentiment arising from the proposed fiscal stimulus by the Chinese government, possibly boosting the out-of-China and intra-Asia trades. Asian stocks in the broader index rose 2.0% to 19.4% in the month ending 22 November 2023.
  • Mainly driven by weak earnings prospects, the Drewry Container Equity Index trades at a P/B of 0.5x, a 47.5% discount to its pre-pandemic average (2013-19). We expect freight rates to fall sharply in 2024 and increasingly incur losses. Thus, we expect the multiple to remain suppressed.
  • As the fleet of container shipping companies expands, the charter market softens. For instance, 1-year TC rates declined 14.2% and 52.5% YoY in October for vessels sized 1,110 teu and 8,500 teu. Rates declined more for larger vessels as these constitute the majority of the order book and new deliveries. The YoY decline has continued since October 2022, but rates improved slightly during April-May 2023. However, this was not due to the fundamentally strong market but MSC and CMA CGM’s aggressive chartering of vessels to expand their fleets. Now that the two companies have stopped chartering in vessels, the charter market continues to decline.
  • Driven by the softening charter market, second-hand asset prices are also weakening. In October, on a YoY basis, prices for five-year-old vessels (2,700 teu and 7,200 teu) contracted 30.6% and 31.5%, and for 10-year-old ships, prices tumbled between 36.7% and 53.2%. Contrary to the sale and purchase market, newbuild prices (1,500 teu and 14,000 teu) continue to increase and rose by an average of 2.2% YoY, led by a shortage of capacity in shipyards.
  • The charter market and the S&P market have a direct impact on container shipping companies’ earnings. Costs related to chartering-in slots or vessels from other non-operating vessel owners form a significant portion of container shipping companies’ cost structure. In the 3Q23 results, this cost was reduced,
    marginally relieving downside pressure on the operating margin of container shipping companies. In line with the declining charter market, we expect this trend to continue in 4Q23. We also expect other companies to follow ZIM in reporting impairment losses as prices for older vessels continue to fall.

Read the report [archived PDF] for additional graphs.

OFR Working Paper Finds Cash Biases Measurement of the Stock Return Correlations

[from the U.S. Office of Financial Research]

Today, the U.S. Office of Financial Research published a working paper, “Cash-Hedged Stock Returns” [archived PDF], and an accompanying blog (below), regarding firms’ cash holdings and the implications for asset prices and financial stability.

Cash holdings are important for financial stability because of their value in crises.  Corporate cash piles vary across companies and over time. Firms’ cash holdings typically earn low returns, and their cash returns are correlated across firms.  Thus, the asset pricing results are important for investors managing a portfolio’s risk and policymakers concerned about sources of vulnerability.

The working paper [archived PDF] shows how investors can hedge cash on firms’ balance sheets when making portfolio choices.  Cash generates variation in beta estimates, and the working paper decomposes stock betas into components that depend on the firm’s cash holding, return on cash, and cash-hedged return. Common asset pricing premia have large implicit cash positions, and portfolios of cash-hedged premia often have higher Sharpe ratios, used by investors to understand a return on investment, because of the correlation between firms’ cash returns. The paper shows the value of a dollar increased in 2020, and firms hold cash because they are riskier.

Read the working paper [archived PDF].

OFR Finds Large Cash Holdings Can Lead to Mismeasuring Risk

[from the OFR blog, by Sharon Ross]

Cash is necessary for companies’ operations. Firms use cash to make payments, finance investments, and manage risk. But holding cash comes at a cost: its low pecuniary return. Published today by the OFR, the working paper, “Cash-Hedged Stock Returns” [archived PDF], shows that the cash returns of publicly traded, non-financial firms are correlated. Since cash returns are a part of equity returns, investors that are using equity return correlations to measure risk can mismeasure risk.

We show the importance of cash for systemic risk by documenting the value of cash in crises, showing that firms hold cash in part due to risk management and studying how cash biases the measurement of the interconnectedness of stock returns. The consequences of cash are important for policymakers monitoring aggregate risks, and sources of market vulnerability and for investors making portfolio choices.

Cash holdings are important for financial stability because of their value in crises. Several papers document a “dash for cash” during the initial panicked stages of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic when firms rushed to hold cash in their coffers. The dash for cash was driven by firms drawing down on lines of credit from banks, which in turn affected bank lending. The dash for cash highlighted the critical role of firms’ cash holdings and returns in understanding risk in the financial system.

We show the value of a dollar increased in 2020. Moreover, our results show that firms may hold cash because they are riskier, as opposed to firms with high cash shares being less risky due to their cash holdings. Our results are consistent with a precautionary savings motive for holding cash. In other words, firms hold cash for risk management, in part to weather bad times.

Cash is a growing share of public firmsassets. The value-weighted U.S. stock market held 22% of its assets in cash in December 2020 compared to 8% in the 1980s. An investor buying the market in 2020 ends up with an implicit cash position three times larger than in 1980. Individual firms vary in how much cash they hold. As cash holdings increase, it is important to understand how cash holdings affect returns, which in turn impacts who chooses to invest in the firms.

Cash returns are correlated across firms, and cash biases measurement of the interconnectedness of stock returns, making it a risk for financial stability. As a result, the asset pricing results are important both for investors managing portfolio risk and for policymakers concerned about interconnected returns.

We argue that the value of corporate cash is distinct, and we can separate the value of cash and the value of the firm’s primary business. We show how investors can explicitly account for the effect of corporate cash holdings when forming a portfolio. When an investor owns stock in a company with substantial cash, the investor has an implicit cash position managed by the company—something the investor might not intend. We argue that investors should account for the effect of corporate cash holdings in the portfolio decision to measure a portfolio’s risk. Firms’ cash management is not consistent across firms, and investors may want to manage their cash positions themselves. Policymakers should be aware of investors’ choices in cash because of investorsportfolio risk and the implications for aggregate risk.

We separate a company’s stock return into its cash and non-cash components, and we show that using the non-cash return gives a more informative correlation structure across stocks. In other words, if investors take out the correlated cash returns, the remaining return is less correlated, yielding portfolios that provide better diversification. We show how cash holdings and returns affect the returns of standard asset pricing strategies and asset pricing models like the capital asset pricing model (CAPM).

As cash holdings of public firms increase, it is important that policymakers understand how these increases impact stock returns for both individual firms and the aggregate market. Cash returns are correlated across firms, and cash biases the measurement of the interconnectedness of stock returns. This correlation is important both for investors who are managing a portfolio’s risk and policymakers concerned about sources of vulnerability stemming from interconnected returns.

World-Watching: Germany Bundesbank: What Moves Markets?

[Deutsche Bundesbank discussion paper 16/2022 by Mark Kerssenfischer & Maik Schmeling]

Non-technical summary

Research question

A key question in the macro-finance literature concerns the drivers of asset prices. Are asset prices mainly driven by news, or by changes in sentiment and other factors unrelated to economic fundamentals? In most asset pricing models, news play a dominant role. But in empirical investigations, the explanatory power of news is often quite low.


We study the explanatory power of news by building a large, time-stamped event database covering a wealth of news related to the macroeconomy, including macroeconomic data releases, central bank announcements, bond auctions, election results, sovereign rating downgrades, and natural catastrophes. We combine this event database with high-frequency stock price and bond yield changes, both for the U.S. and the euro area, going back to 2002.


We find that roughly half of all stock and bond price movements in the U.S. and euro area occur in tight windows around clearly identifiable news and in this sense can be explained by those news. On the positive side, this share is much higher than most previous studies found. However, our results still ascribe a large role to return variation that cannot be linked to news about economic fundamentals.

Read the paper [archived PDF].