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New data from Container Trade Statistics (CTS) shows global container traffic in May hit a new monthly record, largely propelled by a double-digit year-on-year increase in the vast intra-Asia trade.

According to CTS trade data for May, which counts all loaded containers shipped on the world’s shipping lanes, intra-Asia volumes grew 14.4 % year on year, to reach just over 4.5m teu.

And CTS’s Far East-North America component, including both US east and west coasts, showed a 5.9% year-on-year increase in volumes, to just over 2m teu for May, while the Far East-Europe trades witnessed a 2.9% year-on-year growth, to just over 1.5m teu.

It also appears that the spot rates hikes seen on the transpacific and Asai-Europe trades are finally starting to bleed into the CTS price index, which covers both spot and contract rates – with much larger volumes carried under long-term contracts than positioned on spot.

The CTS price index for Far East-North America grew 12.6% year on year, while on Far East-Europe it grew 15.3%, likely reflecting the impact of pricing in this year’s annual contracts between carrier and larger shippers – the contract season in the US traditionally runs from 1 May to 30 April, and it appears that European shippers are beginning to follow suit.

“Asia-Europe contracts used to run from 1 January to 31 December, but more and more are now running from 1 April to the end of March,” A UK-based forwarder told The Loadstar. “For example, Primark is one of the retailers whose contracts now run until the end of March.”

This is partly explained by carrier reluctance to renew contracts with shippers late last year and the early part of 2024, when spot rates were languishing at barely break-even levels and shippers were bargaining hard.

“We see expectation out there for contract rates that are unrealistic, and at those levels we will not close, because we’re not going to close contract rates at levels where we, for sure, will lose a lot of money,” said Hapag-Lloyd CEO Rolf Habben Jansen in November.

Of course, the Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping and subsequent vessels diversions have completely changed the picture.

However, the CTS May report also showed a number of secondary trades that became increasingly ‘hot’ in recent months, due to higher demand and surging prices.

The Far East-Middle East/India trade is now the fifth-largest in the world, in terms of volumes, and grew 5.3% in May, to reach 750,000 teu (a few thousand containers behind the intra-Europe trade), while the price index rose 16.2%, most likely on the back of congestion issues and equipment scarcity.

The Far East-Latin America trade grew 19.8%, as carriers introduced new services into the region and pricing surged 40.3% year on year.

The other big price rise was seen on Far East-Southern Africa, which was up 34.3%, despite the fact that volumes were just 1.2%.

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