Charlotte, N.C.—Oct. 25, 2011—Horizon Lines, Inc., a domestic ocean shipping company, will discontinue its Five Star Express (FSX) trans-Pacific container shipping service between the U.S. West Coast, Guam and China.
Horizon is implementing an orderly transition plan, beginning Oct. 31, and will work aggressively to mitigate any supply chain disruptions for its customers. Discontinuation of the FSX Guam and China services will have no impact on the company's domestic ocean services in Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico.
"This has been a very difficult decision in light of the tremendous contributions from our associates, and our organized labor and vendor partners, who have worked so hard to make the FSX service a success," said Stephen H. Fraser, president and chief executive officer. "Our decision to exit this highly volatile market will allow Horizon to focus on our core domestic ocean shipping services, and provide the opportunity to produce a more profitable and stable financial performance over time."
The last voyage of the FSX service from China is scheduled to depart Shanghai on Nov. 2. Horizon Lines also will suspend ocean services to Guam and surrounding islands effective with the last sailing from the U.S. West Coast on Nov. 10.
The company expects to cease all operations related to the FSX service during the fourth quarter and does not expect to have significant continuing involvement in the operations after the termination. Therefore, the company will classify the FSX service as discontinued operations and as a result, expects to record a pretax restructuring charge of between $105 million and $110 million in fiscal fourth quarter 2011. The charge includes estimated costs to return excess rolling stock equipment, facility closures, severance, and vessel charter expense, net of estimated sub-charter income. Losses associated with the FSX service produced a negative adjusted EBITDA impact of approximately $43.7 million for the nine months ended Sept. 25, with additional losses expected through the end of the year.
Following their last voyages, the five Hunter-Class D-8 vessels operating in the FSX service are currently planned to be laid up, after dry-docking of the remaining four vessels. The vessels are leased from Ship Finance International Limited through 2018 to 2019. Horizon Lines is exploring sub-chartering the vessels and other solutions to partially mitigate ongoing charter expense and maintenance costs.
Horizon Lines launched the FSX service in December 2010, following expiration of a long-term space charter agreement with Maersk Line. The FSX service offers rapid eastbound transit between Ningbo and Shanghai in China and Los Angeles and Oakland on the U.S. West Coast. The westbound leg of the FSX service provides transit between the U.S. West Coast, Guam, Micronesia and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Since early in the year, the FSX service met volume and vessel utilization expectations, winning cargo from customers attracted to the schedule reliability, rapid ocean transit and seamless intermodal rail links to inland U.S. cities. However, the Shanghai Container Freight Index cites eastbound freight rates from China to the United States have fallen more than 37 percent in the past 12 months, from $2,400 per 40-foot container in October 2010 to approximately $1,500 in October of this year, the lowest level since the worldwide recession of 2008-2009. At the same time, the average price of bunker fuel has climbed more than 40 percent since the launch of the service.
"We do not expect any measurable improvements in fuel prices, the freight-rate environment or in this tradelane for the foreseeable future," said Brian Taylor, executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Growing capacity continues to outpace demand and the forecast for 2012 calls for more of the same."
In Guam, the expected growth in cargo driven by infrastructure improvements associated with the military redeployment from Okinawa has been further delayed due to the budget crises in Japan and the U.S., as well as revised Japanese priorities in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. This has made the Guam trade no longer financially viable for Horizon Lines, without an eastbound return voyage from China.
"Given current market conditions and foreseeable future expectations, discontinuing the FSX service is the appropriate decision for the company," said Mr. Taylor. "It will allow us to focus all of our resources on serving customers in the very solid domestic ocean markets in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico."