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Containership Charter Rates Continue to Set New Records, But Some See Softening on the Horizon

The Loadstar
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February 22, 2022

By Mike Wackett (The Loadstar) –

Containership charter rates and second-hand values are heading for a correction according to a broker source, after sector records were broken again in January.

February’s Horizon containerships report, from Maritime Strategies International (MSI), recorded daily hire benchmarks being smashed in all sizes as ocean carriers, niche shipping lines and forwarders competed for the same vessels.

The only dilemma keeping shipowners awake at nights is whether to take the huge daily hire rates on offer for short to medium periods, or bank the still-elevated rates from carriers for much longer periods.

Moreover, owners continue to be besieged with offers on the S&P market, should they prefer to cash-in their assets.

According to the MSI report, the feeder sector, which it classifies as containerships of up to 3,900 teu, saw some of the most spectacular deals during January, buoyed by raids from a Hawaii-based transport group on behalf of US retailers.

“Pasha Hawaii was the busiest customer in this segment, sweeping up charters for six containerships ranging from 2,700 teu to 3,500 teu,” said MSI.

The standout fixture was a charter of 45-55 days for Sea Consortium’s 2,743 teu X-Press Mekong, which was fixed at a staggering $175,000 a day, generating $7.8m to $9.6m of charter hire for the Singapore-based firm.

Meanwhile, MSI said ‘market’ rates for this size of ship rose 7.3% in January to a new record of $77,000 a day, noting that “movements in February have so far been limited”.

To overcome the dearth of open tonnage in the sector, MSI reported that charterers were tapping the orderbook of ships nearing construction completion to “secure vessels ahead of delivery dates”.

Elsewhere, in the mid-sizes from 4,300 teu to 6,500 teu, panamax ships are in big demand again, not only from ad-hoc liners, but also from established carriers, such as Hapag-Lloyd, which announced last week it was commencing a new standalone Asia to North Europe loop, deploying eight panamax vessels.

The traditional workhorses of liner trades, prior to the unit cost liner war of the past two decades, panamax ships are now very much back in vogue, due to highly elevated freight rates across many tradelanes that make their deployment extremely profitable, while the ships offer improved flexibility over larger tonnage in terms of port options.

MSI reported new records for the ‘classic’ 4,300 teu panamax ships, with, at the extreme level, Pasha Hawaii paying $235,000 a day for the 4,308 teu 2009-built Ionikos for a three-four month hire, while at the ‘market’ level, rates breached $100,000 a day for ships that could barely achieve $5,000 five years ago.

In the larger vessel sectors of 7,500 teu plus, MSI saw, rates for 8,500 teu ships “stabilising at around $150,000 a day in January”, with some recent deals being done at $160,000 a day.

Interestingly, MSI’s outlook for all sectors is for a softening of rates across the board in the coming quarters from the current highs, a view that is supported by one of The Loadstar’s broker sources.

“What I’m hearing is that we may have reached the peak now,” he said, “I don’t see there being a crash, but there could be a bit of a correction from Q2 onwards as some of the congestion begins to ease.”

The Loadstar is known at the highest levels of logistics and supply chain management as one of the best sources of influential analysis and commentary.

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