Annual Report 2023

Market position

With its listed core business Port Logistics, HHLA competes with other companies on the European market for sea freight services. By establishing locations for handling activities both in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions, as well as continuously optimising and expanding its intermodal network, HHLA has been able to leverage the growth potential of its respective markets over recent years. In the 2023 financial year, however, the development of the HHLA Group was burdened by the ongoing war in Ukraine, the military escalation in the Middle East, rising geopolitical tensions, high inflation and interest rate hikes, which dampened the economic recovery from the pandemic. Economic environment

In mid-September 2023, HHLA was informed by its majority shareholder, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (FHH), that it had come to an understanding with the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) as part of an investor agreement about a strategic investment in HHLA AG. According to this agreement, the City of Hamburg and MSC intend to manage and develop the company together in future. One central component of this partnership remains the neutrality of the HHLA business model. Significant events

Container segment

Competitive factors

The competitive position of a terminal operator is determined by geographical location and the hinterland links of a port as well as its accessibility from the sea. Local freight volume in the direct catchment area of each port location also plays an important role. Other key competitive factors that influence the market position include the reliability and speed of ship handling as well as the scope and quality of services. Also of increasing importance is the performance of pre- and onward-carriage rail systems between the port and its hinterland (for example, in terms of frequency, punctuality and pricing) and therefore the range of integrated transport solutions.

Competition is extremely fierce in Northern Europe and ports are still being affected by changing shipping company constellations, alliances and participations in terminals. Business partners and clients

With regard to the potential transfer of container traffic, a distinction must be made here between overseas traffic (i.e. ocean transport from distant regions, such as Asia or North America, to Northern Europe) and feeder traffic, which redistributes cargo from the major North Range seaports to the Baltic, for example. The shift resulting from new shipping company constellations, alliances and participations in terminals towards more geographically flexible feeder traffic is having an impact on handling volumes. By contrast, handling volumes of overseas traffic that are tied to the port’s natural catchment area are relocated less frequently. Competition in maritime hinterland transport by rail or truck is becoming more intensive, not least as a result of shipping companies entering the market through horizontal business field strategies.

Competitive environment

The market for port services of significance to HHLA on the Northern European coast (the North Range) is characterised by its high concentration of ports. Competition is particularly strong between the four largest North Range ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp-Bruges, Hamburg (HHLA’s main hub) and the Bremen ports. In September 2023, Eurogate and Terminal Investment Limited, a subsidiary of MSC, prolonged their joint venture agreement for MSC Gate Bremerhaven until 2048.

Container throughput at the North Range ports

Handling volumes and market shares 1–9 | 2023

Container throughput at the North Range ports (map)
Source: Port Authorities / market shares according to own calculation

As the most easterly North Sea port, the Port of Hamburg’s position makes it the ideal hub for the entire Baltic region and for hinterland traffic to and from Central and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, the long-standing trading relationships between the Port of Hamburg and the Asian markets are advancing Hamburg’s role as a major European container hub. With container throughput of 7.7 million TEU, Hamburg is expected to rank 21st among ports worldwide in 2023, cementing its status as the third-largest European container port after Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges. In the Port of Hamburg, HHLA is a direct competitor of Eurogate, particularly with regard to overseas services: HHLA operates three container terminals in Hamburg, while Eurogate operates one. With a throughput volume of 5.8 million TEU in the 2023 financial year, HHLA remained the largest container handling company in the Port of Hamburg and was able to expand its market share there to 75.6 % (previous year: 75.2 %). The major shipping regions were Asia, North America, Scandinavia and the Baltic region.

Container throughput at the North Range ports

in million TEU

Container throughput at the North Range ports (line chart)
Source: Source: Port Authorities;
1 incl. HHLA,
2 incl. Zeebrügge since 2022

Container throughput by shipping region

in the Port of Hamburg in 2023

Container throughput by shipping region (pie chart)
Source: Hamburg Hafen Marketing e.V.

The Baltic Sea ports are served by high feeder traffic operating via central distribution points in the North Range. Ports such as Gdansk and Gothenburg, however, are also used by ocean-going vessels. Gdansk in particular experienced strong growth in the years up to 2022. Since 2022, however, container handling volumes have declined due to the war in Ukraine and the general economic environment in Europe. Nevertheless, the Port of Gdansk is a serious competitor within this network system. Despite the decrease in handling volumes, the expansion of the port and the Baltic Hub terminal in particular will continue to be pursued.

With HHLA TK Estonia, HHLA has been operating one of Estonia’s most important multi-function terminals in the Port of Muuga near Tallinn since 2018. Due to the wide range of services, including container handling and the processing of RoRo traffic, as well as general cargo and bulk cargo, the terminal is very well positioned. Furthermore, the Port of Muuga is part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), which includes rail routes, inland waterways, shorter seaborne routes and roads.

The Adriatic region with ports such as Koper and Trieste has also developed dynamically in recent years. Having acquired a majority shareholding in the multi-function terminal “Piattaforma Logistica Trieste” (PLT) in Trieste in 2021, HHLA has positioned itself in a market that offers good opportunities for development, including the opportunity to actively participate in and help shape new and changing cargo flows. The terminal has its own rail connection. The Port of Trieste is also integrated into the European intermodal network of HHLA’s rail subsidiary METRANS. Since September 2023, a new container service has been using the terminal that links the ports within the Mediterranean region.

The Container Terminal Odessa (CTO) on the Black Sea is Ukraine’s largest container terminal. It has been operated by the HHLA Group since 2001 and previously handled bulk cargo, general cargo and project cargo in addition to containers. With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, seaborne container handling at the CTO came to a standstill. All that was possible was the partial loading of grain ships to comply with international agreements. In addition, alternative intermodal logistics routes were established in the hinterland. Given the current geopolitical situation and the restricted business operations, it remains difficult to assess the market environment.

Intermodal segment

Competitive factors

In addition to the density of the available network, key competitive factors for intermodal transport – which is becoming increasingly significant in terms of the competition between ports – include the frequency of departures, opportunities for freight pooling and storage in the hinterland, the geographical distance to destinations, punctuality and infrastructural capacity.

Competitive environment

With regard to container transport by train, the state railway companies compete with a variety of private rail operators and intermodal transport firms, as well as with other carriers such as trucks and barges or feeder ships. As rail infrastructure is mainly publicly owned, various national authorities guard against discrimination in terms of both access and usage fees.

Intermodal network of HHLA

Selected connections

Intermodal network of HHLA (map)

HHLA operates proprietary inland terminals in Central and Eastern Europe along with its own container wagons and traction fleet (locomotives), all of which are central to the company’s service offering. This is necessary to enable HHLA to run direct trains with frequent and highly punctual departures. HHLA occupies relevant market positions in the majority of the regions it serves in the field of intermodal transport. HHLA has a sound market position in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region in the delivery and collection of containers by truck.

Intermodal network of HHLA

Selected connections

Intermodal network of HHLA (map)

Logistics segment

The Logistics segment serves various market sectors, some of which are highly specialised. With its multi-function terminal Unikai, HHLA is the leading provider of specialist handling services in Hamburg. Via Hansaport, HHLA has a stake in Germany’s biggest seaport terminal for handling iron ore and coal. HHLA also provides fruit handling services for Northern Europe through its Frucht- und Kühl-Zentrum. The portfolio also includes consulting and management services for clients in the international port and transport industry. New business activities in process automation, airborne logistics services and digital services, particularly for the intermodal segment, complete the portfolio.

Real Estate segment

As a significant economic centre with a population of approximately 1.9 million, Hamburg is one of the largest property markets in Germany for the non-listed Real Estate segment. What makes its portfolio particularly attractive are its unique buildings and favourable locations in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt historical warehouse district and on the northern banks of the river Elbe/fish market area. The company has built up a wealth of development and implementation expertise dedicated to finding the right balance between market-based tenant demands and careful handling of its landmarked buildings with world heritage status. These properties compete with German and international investors marketing high-quality properties in comparable locations.

Feeder/Feeder ship
Vessels which carry smaller numbers of containers to ports. From Hamburg, feeders are primarily used to transport boxes to the Baltic region.
A port’s catchment area.
Hub terminal (Hinterland)
A terminal which bundles and distributes consignments as hand­ling hub. HHLA’s rail companies operate hub terminals like this in Ceska Trebova, Budapest, Dunajska Streda, Poznan and Prague.
Intermodal/Intermodal systems
Transportation via several modes of transport (water, rail, road) combining the specific advantages of the respective carriers.
Payments for investments in property, plant and equipment, investment property and intangible assets.
North range
Northern European coast on which, in a broader geographical sense, all Northern European overseas ports from Le Havre to Hamburg. The four largest ports are Rotterdam, Antwerp-Bruges, Hamburg and Bremerhaven.
Short for “roll on, roll off”, RoRo is a means of loading cargo which can simply be rolled or driven onto or off a ship. Most rolling cargo consists of cars of trucks, but project cargo is also transported in this way on special trailers.
TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit)
A TEU is a 20-foot standard container, used as a unit for measuring container volumes. A 20-foot standard container is 6.06 metres long, 2.44 metres wide and 2.59 metres high.
In maritime logistics, a terminal is a facility where freight transported by various modes of transport is handled.
The action of a locomotive pulling a train.

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