• TPM25
  • March 2-5, 2025 | Long Beach Convention Center
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TPM24 Theme: Extreme normalization fallout

As violently as the market seized up during the COVID-19 pandemic, the “extreme normalization” of 2023, coined by Maersk CEO Vincent Clerc in May 2023, was, for much of the year, the market reality. But what really was happening was that the market was being lulled into a false sense of security: By mid-2023, the reversion to pre-pandemic freight rates, port fluidity, and sense of quasi-normal already was being called into question by below-normal schedule reliability and Panama Canal navigation restrictions. And that was even before any lingering sense of normalcy was obliterated by the attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the market being turned upside-down as a direct result.

Even early in 2023, it was clear that one factor — schedule reliability — had not returned to pre-pandemic levels, as ocean carriers sought to aggressively mitigate the overcapacity by pulling every lever from blank sailings to added port calls to super-slow steaming. Schedules as of November were still 15 percentage points below 2019 levels, according to Sea-Intelligence.

But that was only a prelude, as more than 300 container ships as of Dec. 31 had been diverted around the Cape of Good Hope by Dec. 31 to avoid attacks on shipping by Houthi rebels targeting vessels off the western coast of Yemen. Freight rates, surcharges, transit times, and carrier share prices all rose sharply as excess capacity got instantaneously absorbed at a time when volumes were showing signs of recovery.

The events served as a sobering reality check of a new world fraught with risk that is confronting global supply chains. Yet again, how completely the macro environment of global supply chains has changed was brought home in vivid fashion. The decades pre-COVID were characterized by infrequent disruptions, low costs, high reliability, and a container system serving as able facilitator of globalized supply chains.

To say that was all history is an understatement. Today, it’s not if the next disruption will occur, it’s when and how severe will it be, with the added element of being unpredictable. No model can say when, where, or how the next shock will occur, leaving those running global supply chains to make hard, costly choices regarding inventory levels and product lead times, and sourcing strategies.

Indeed, if there was a story to 2023, it was the market being lulled into a false sense of complacency due to post-COVID normalization as disruptive forces gathered as the year progressed. In Panama, the worst drought in decades limited transits of Asia-US East Coast container services and a rare warning for a potential strike by East Coast dockworkers placed in jeopardy the decades-long labor peace at ports from Maine to Texas.

All that calls into question assumptions that were beginning to take hold amid the brief post-pandemic normalization. Assumptions that prevailed during 2020-2022, including the idea that rate levels would never again return to pre-COVID levels, proved temporarily illusory, but have come back with a vengeance.

Not only did rates return to the levels that left ocean carriers barely profitable as an industry over many years, but those carriers were staring at three to five years of systemic overcapacity. Given the current bloated orderbook, cellular containership fleet growth will exceed that of world port volumes through 2026 and possibly 2028, according to some analysts.

But there is nothing like a severe shock to the system to throw all that into question. Now, carriers that had been staring at years of potential overcapacity will get at least a temporary reprieve depending on how long it takes to restore normal vessel traffic through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, given how much capacity is absorbed by ships sailing the lengthy route around the Cape of Good Hope. Carriers already are telegraphing caution on that front, taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the timing and effectiveness of so-called Operation Prosperity Guardian, the 20-nation (as of Dec. 21) navy coalition assembled to protect shipping off the coast of Yemen.

All of this underpins the core of TPM24, where an extensive program of keynotes, fireside chats, panels, TED-style talks, shipper case studies, and TPM Academy, will anchor shippers and other participants in the realities of the where the market is as of early 2024 and illuminate where it's headed during the balance of the year and further into the future.

TPM Tracks and Sessions*

Confirmed Sessions

  • The Global Economic Outlook From S&P Global 
  • Scanning the Horizon: The 2024 Container Shipping Outlook
  • After the Diversions: Will West Coast Ports Regain Market Share? 
  • The Last Word: Lars Jensen and His Unique Perspective 
  • Beyond the Trans-Pacific: The Evolving Trans-Atlantic, North-South, and Intra-Asia Trades

Tracks and Topics:

  • TPM Academy: 15 New Learning Modules (link to TPM Academy page) 
  • TPMTech: A New, Integrated Experience (link to TPMTech page) 
  • Plugging It In: Understanding the Reefer Market Ahead (link to TPM Cold Chain page) 
  • TPM CEO Series: Keynote-Level One-on-Ones and Fireside Chats 
  • TPM Accelerator: TED-Style Talks From Industry Disruptors 
  • Case Studies: Industry Solutions From the BCO Perspective 
  • The Landside View: Intermodal Rail and Trucking 
  • The Global Regulatory Landscape 
  • Decarbonization and Sustainability 
  • Geopolitics and Supply Chain: Adjusting to a New World Order 

*Subject to Change; watch for the release of the initial full agenda in late August