Written by The Business Journal Staff
Last week’s bankruptcy filing by South Korean shipping giant Hanjin has roiled ports and exporters around the world — and could result in a hefty price hike for Valley businesses that ship their products internationally.
Tulare County farmers export nearly 15 million cartons of food to East Asia every year. The majority of those products are shipped on large container vessels via ports in Los Angeles, Oakland and Stockton.
“Exports are critical to our growers’ success,” said Tulare County Ag Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita.
Kinoshita said Hanjin’s bankruptcy filing could negatively impact the county’s exporters. “They can only pass on so much of these higher costs,” she said. “Processing fees are going to go up, at least temporarily.”
Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, called the Hanjin news “potentially serious.”
Nelsen, who was in Los Angeles this week for meetings, said he had yet to canvass area growers on the potential fallout from the Hanjin bankruptcy. “We’re not exporting much right now so I haven’t heard a lot of hue and cry from my people yet.”
“But we really got burned by the West Coast port strike a few years ago,” Nelsen added, saying that multi-week shut down cost the industry $600 million in lost business. “We’re definitely going to keep our eye on this [Hanjin] situation.”
Hanjin, the world’s seventh-largest container shipping company, handles roughly 8 percent of the trans-Pacific trade volume for the U.S. market. The company reportedly has been losing money for years and filed for bankruptcy protection a day after its creditors, led by a state-run bank, refused to prop it up.
The bankruptcy filing, which left Hanjin cargo headed to and from Asia in limbo, is sure to have “a ripple effect throughout the global supply chain” according to the National Retail Federation, who warned Hanjin’s demise could cause “significant harm” to both consumers and the U.S. economy.
After the bankruptcy filing, Hanjin’s assets were frozen and many of its ships were refused permission to offload or take aboard new containers, causing chaos and gridlock at many of the world’s ports, including those in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland.
A Hanjin spokeswoman told Reuters late last week that since the bankruptcy filing, 44 of the company’s 98 container ships had been denied access to ports including Shanghai, Sydney, Hamburg and Long Beach.
Port of Los Angeles spokesman Michael Gold confirmed that, at least temporarily, its terminals are not accepting any new Hanjin imports or exports.
The Port of Oakland terminal that handles Hanjin’s cargo was continuing to “unload Hanjin ships and they’re going to deliver the loaded import containers to Hanjin customers,” according to port spokesman Robert Bernardo. But the Los Angeles Times reported the terminal was refusing to load containers of U.S. exports on outbound Hanjin vessels unless “full payment was received in advance” from Hanjin or one of its representatives.
Some of the Seoul-based company’s vessels, including a number currently located in Chinese waters, were reportedly under threat of seizure by some of the company’s creditors.
While bankruptcy protection will keep Hanjin’s assets from being seized in more than 40 countries, reports surfaced this week that the South Korean government was considering a partial bailout for the troubled company, which has been steadily losing money the past five years.
Hanjin’s parent company announced Tuesday that it would raise and spend about 60 billion won — or roughly $90 million — to temporarily try to ease the gridlock at world ports. Media reports from Seoul said the company would raise the cash by selling off some of its assets, potentially including its majority stake in Total Terminals International, which operates Long Beach’s largest shipping terminal.
Meanwhile, the economic impact for Valley businesses that rely on container transport was immediate — and dramatic — with some prices quoted by Hanjin’s competitors jumping by as much as 50 percent in a single day following the bankruptcy news.
Shipping prices from China to West Coast ports rose from $1,100 per container to as much as $1,700 immediately after news of the Hanjin bankruptcy broke, according to Nerijus Poskus, director of pricing and procurement for Flexport, a Bay Area-based freight forwarder and customs broker. Poskus said the cost to send a container from China to the East Coast jumped even higher, from $1,700 to $2,400 following the Hanjin news.
The chaos and price hikes are sure to impact business that rely on so-called “just-in-time” shipping and could really hurt U.S. retailers bringing in Asian-made products for the holiday shopping season.
Dr. Ernie Goss, a member of the research faculty at Fresno State’s Craig School of Business, noted in his latest monthly business index survey that new export orders at Valley businesses remained anemic last month, falling further than the “frail” export index reading registered in July.
“The U.S. dollar remains relatively strong, making U.S. goods less competitively priced abroad,” Goss said, a situation that is likely to be exacerbated by the Hanjin bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, a number of Valley businesses, including some major ag operations, appear to be insulated from the Hanjin fallout.
Gerawan Farming, the nation’s largest stone fruit grower, is not likely to be immediately impacted by the Hanjin bankruptcy, according to Dan Gerawan, co-owner of the Reedley-based company.
“Fruit is normally sold FOB (free on board), which means the buyers are responsible for arranging and paying for shipping from the grower’s cold storage,” Gerawan said.
Gerawan’s recent decision to exit the table grape business spared the company from much exposure to the recent container price hikes. “We don’t produce table grapes anymore, so this really won’t impact us,” Gerawan said.