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Shippers Compete for Space as Container Freight Rates Continue Rise

The Loadstar
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May 7, 2021

By Mike Wackett (The Loadstar) –

Shippers from Asia to Europe saw a further spike in container spot rates this week, particularly for Mediterranean ports.

And ocean carriers are said to be preparing big increases in short-term rates as cargo-rolling becomes the norm.

On the transpacific, carriers are ‘sold out’ for the rest of May and into June, with this week’s spot rate increases from Asia to the US west and east coasts described by one shipper as “academic”.

The North Europe component of the Freightos Baltic Index (FBX) increased by 5% this week, to $8,127 per 40ft, which represents a remarkable 475% increase on the same week of last year.

For the Mediterranean, the FBX spot jumped 10%, to $8,868 per 40ft, as shippers from Asia scrambled for space to meet urgent inventory replenishing for the summer holiday season. Short-term rates have spiked by a ‘less spectacular’ 345% compared with 12 months ago.

The Ningbo Containerized Freight Index commentary reported “considerable cargo” for Europe was rolled this week, as demand for space “remained very high”.

The Loadstar has this week seen FAK carrier rates to North Europe of up to $14,000 per 40ft, with one Shenzhen-based forwarder offering a “very good rate”, with guaranteed space, of $12,000 per 40ft from Chinese main ports to Felixstowe or London Gateway for a late May shipment.

For the transpacific tradelane, this week’s FBX recorded a 3.5% increase for Asia to the US west coast, to $5,015 per 40ft, and a 5.5% uplift to spot rates for the east coast, to $6,584 per 40ft.

And there is no let-up in sight in the demand for imports from Asia, the US National Retail Federation predicting that the restocking of low inventory levels by retailers will continue for several more months and into the peak season.

“Space in May is already full, with demand remaining healthy through to the beginning of the third quarter,” said Jon Monroe, of Washington state-based Jon Monroe Consulting.

Maersk said this week it had now finalised more than 80% of its long-term contracts, but although the transpacific contract season is almost complete Mr Monroe suggested some carriers were “struggling with the transition” to new contracts.

“In many cases, space for new contracts for companies which have switched carriers is not available until mid-June. But will it be any better then? I think not,” he said. “The problem this year is that carriers have no doubt reduced their MQCs to budget for record FAK/premium rates.”

Meanwhile, on the normally robust transatlantic route, shippers from North Europe are still struggling to secure space and being obliged to pay much higher rates with a raft of surcharges and premium fees to secure shipment.

The FBX component for North Europe to the US east coast was up 4% this week, to $3,558 per 40ft – nearly double the rate of a year ago. And CMA CGM has hiked its Sea Priority Go premium charge on the transatlantic to $2,000 per 40ft.

“So, you book your box at the elevated rates, pay PSS and BAF – and then, to ensure the container actually gets shipped, you have to pay another $2,000,” raged one forwarder.

With the spot market indices only representing average rates in the marketplace, shippers are often frustrated that they cannot book space at index rates.

“Shippers paying such rate levels have no guarantee to get empty equipment released or their booking guaranteed,” said Alphaliner.

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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