Date: 16.05.2024

Ex-Asia spot rate spiral turned into shooting star

Container shipping lines have announced significant rate hikes on all ex-Asia trade lanes, due to increased demand and increasing equipment challenges in more origins and it would be prudent to expect more of the same.

Effective capacity to North Europe has decreased by 5% compared to a year ago, due to the longer route around Africa, despite the deployment of 18% more vessel capacity. 

One leading carrier has suggested that capacity shortages could be as much as 20% and while the situation is not as grim as the carrier suggests, demand growth of 15% has taken the market by surprise with container equipment and vessels in short supply. 

It is difficult to see what precipitated the steep increase in demand over the last couple of weeks, which have been remarkably strong. It may be buyers pulling orders forward because they have concerns about global geopolitical uncertainties, or they need an additional two-week buffer of stock in transit. Or rates could be driven by a more general restocking to replenish inventories.

The speed and pace of change in the market has been phenomenal, replicating the lead-up to the peak of the pandemic, with demand hugely high. Add to that the early start of the traditional peak season in May, which is now seasonalising to the pre-pandemic model and it’s a potential nightmare scenario for importers.

Carriers are putting rates out and then withdrawing them because they have already been replaced with higher levels. 

FAK and spot rate quotes for most shipping lines are now closed until June, or later, so shippers can’t make a booking even if they are willing to pay premium prices.

Demand has grown consistently over the last two quarters and while new container ship deliveries continue, the diversion around the Cape of Good Hope, strong demand and additional summer service deployments are absorbing this capacity and we expect the lines to continue raising rates into the summer.

The ocean freight market has moved beyond ‘pay to play’, with carriers cutting back on contracts, blanking vessels and not carrying space forward. Shippers may look around and try to ‘play the market’ but everyone is in the same ‘boat’.

Metro are coping relatively well, thanks to our long-standing carrier relationships and sensible annual contracts, which guarantee us space and set rates.

To learn how we can enhance your ocean freight solutions, please EMAIL our Chief Commercial Officer, Andy Smith.