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HHLA's container handling drops significantly

It was one of the great contradictions of the past pandemic: The supply chains were severely disrupted worldwide by the devastation caused by the corona virus.

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HHLA's container handling drops significantly

It was one of the great contradictions of the past pandemic: The supply chains were severely disrupted worldwide by the devastation caused by the corona virus. And that is precisely why many logistics companies continued to earn good money or even – like Germany's largest shipping company Hapag-Lloyd – realized record profits of previously unimaginable heights.

It may not have been a record profit at HHLA 2022, but at least an operating profit before interest and taxes (EBIT) of 220 million euros. The year before, Hamburg's most important port logistics company, 69 percent of which is owned by the city of Hamburg, had earned 228 million euros before interest and taxes. In the port logistics subgroup, EBIT fell from 213 to 202 million euros. HHLA's sales last year increased by 7.7 percent compared to 2021 to around 1.6 billion euros. The company announced this on Friday.

The fact that the profit remained reasonably stable also had something to do with a special effect: For months, practically no container freighters in international traffic drove punctually, several were at the roadstead at the same time, for example in the German Bight. In order to still ensure that the ships were loaded and unloaded in this chaotic situation, HHLA set up special areas for storing containers – and paid well for this service.

The actual basic business, however, the handling of containers at the quayside, fell by 7.9 percent to around 6.4 million container units (TEU). At the three Hamburg container terminals and at the multi-purpose terminal O'Swaldkai, HHLA recorded a 4.1 percent decline in container throughput. HHLA also operates port terminals near the Estonian capital of Tallinn, in Trieste, Italy, and at the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa. The terminal in Odessa was closed after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and some of the Ukrainian employees came to Germany.

"The 2022 financial year was shaped by the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, its effects and the disruption to global supply chains," said HHLA boss Angela Titzrath. "In these challenging times, HHLA has once again demonstrated its efficiency and resilience and generated a good result. We continue to expect a volatile environment and are already implementing measures to position ourselves efficiently and for the future.”

As has been the case for many years, the freight rail subsidiary Metrans, based in Prague, has once again proved to be a stabilizing factor for HHLA. The total container transport volume of HHLA - mainly the train transports of Metrans - rose minimally to around 1.7 million TEU in 2022. In addition to the container terminals abroad, Metrans is the decisive element in HHLA's strategy of positioning itself as a European logistics group and thus also reducing its dependency on port handling in Hamburg, which has been stagnating for a long time. Metrans is regarded as a pioneer in the modernization of container transport by rail, with a modern vehicle fleet, highly efficient locomotives and freight wagons that allow particularly high numbers of containers on limited train lengths.

In view of many international crises, HHLA's outlook is cautious: "For the first quarter of 2023, the company expects a significant decline in volume development due to the economy and a normalization of the storage time of containers," says the statement on the annual figures. “The situation is expected to improve from the second quarter of 2023, with a corresponding increase in volume. Against the background of the volatile environment, these assumptions are subject to a high degree of uncertainty.”

In order to remain competitive, especially in the face of strong competition from the North Sea ports, HHLA is pressing ahead with its modernization. The company is working on increased automation and digitization at the Hamburg port terminals. Hamburg's largest container terminal, Burchardkai, is to have automated handling technology similar to that of the highly automated Altenwerder terminal. In addition, HHLA is expanding electromobility in terminal vehicles with battery-electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. By the year 2040, the entire group is to work "climate-neutral on the balance sheet". Automation is also being pushed ahead on the plants abroad. In Trieste, HHLA may set up a new container terminal that is to be equipped with a fully automated storage system known as "Boxbay" technology. However, this has not yet been decided.

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