The London-based firm projects that container freight rates will rise modestly over the next 18 months from the all-time lows reached recently, but it won’t be sufficient enough to rescue the industry from substantial losses in 2016.
Drewry estimated that container carriers collectively signed away $10 billion in revenue in this year’s contract rate negotiations on the two main East-West trades. “There are distinct parallels between what is happening now and the depths of the 2008/09 global financial crisis,” Drewry added. With annual transpacific contract rates as low as $800 per 40-foot container (FEU) to the U.S. West Coast and $1,800 per FEU to the U.S. East Coast, the firm said “carriers have done exactly what they did back in May 2009 in a desperate attempt to retain market share. With first quarter headhaul load factors at around 90 percent, there was no logical reason for carriers to sign so much revenue away in one fell swoop.”
Drewry said spot rates on the core trades have significantly improved after general rate increases took effect July 1, but that it is still too soon to tell if carriers have suddenly changed their approach to commercial pricing. The Shanghai Shipping Exchange’s widely followed Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) said spot rates from Shanghai to the U.S. West Coast jumped to $1,209 per FEU on July 1 from $753 per FEU a week earlier and to the U.S. East Coast, the index surged to $1,785 per FEU from $1,496 per FEU. In another report, the firm’s Container Insight Weekly newsletter published on Monday, it noted “depressed rates and slowing demand during much of the second quarter have now forced the carriers to withdraw services – action which is quite unprecedented just ahead of the third quarter peak season” in the Asia-U.S. West Coast trade.”
Drewry predicted that “In order to create some buffer during the peak season between BCO rates and walk-in customer prices the carriers are likely to apply a PSS to at least restore spot rates above the $1,000 level. “SCFI rates were also up sharply on Asia to Europe routes last week. From Shanghai to Europe they rose to $1,206 per 20-foot container (TEU) from $680 per TEU and to the Mediterranean they rose to $1,172 per TEU from $776 per TEU. “The recent decision by the G6 lines to take a weekly loop out of the Asia-North Europe trade is a positive move,” Drewry said. “But similarly pragmatic and pro-active measures will be necessary across other sick trades if recent improvements are to gain momentum. While the new alliance structures are bedding-in between now and April 2017, this work will take some time yet. “Indeed, after some good repair work in the Asia to East Coast South America trade, which improved spot rates from a lowly $100-200 per 40ft back up to over $2,500 per box, the industry can only wait and see what happens elsewhere,” Drewry added.