© Rasmus Ursem contract
© Rasmus Ursem

The timing for ocean carriers to negotiate annual transpacific contracts is “the worst possible”, according to the latest assessment by Drewry.

The consultant blames weak demand after Chinese new year and an increase in capacity.

Container lines sitting down with BCOs need to obtain rate increases to at least cover the circa-40% year-on-year hike in fuel costs and inflationary intermodal pressures in the US – but this could be difficult, suggests the consultant.

“A top-heavy delivery schedule and sluggish demand may force shipping lines to lower 2018 transpacific contract rates,” said Drewry.

It said that for 2018, it seemed “shippers have the upper hand”, and that any increase would be hard to obtain this year, although it expects the second half of the year to see a rebalancing of supply and demand, supporting higher spot rates and, consequentially, improved contract prospects for 2019.

After the 1 April GRI-induced spike last week, container spot rates between Asia and the US failed to continue the recovery momentum this week.

The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) – published a day early due to a Chinese national holiday – was almost unchanged at $1,128 per 40ft for the US west coast and $2,150 per 40ft for east coast ports.

“Spot rates drive contract rates,” said Drewry. “Currently those rates are some 30% lower for the west coast than a year ago, and about 19% below US east coast spots at this time 12 months ago.”

And carriers are not optimistic on the prospects for meaningful rate increases on the tradelane. During Hapag-Lloyd’s 2017 results presentation last week, chief executive Rolf Habben-Jansen said he still hoped for “slightly higher rates on the transpacific.”

Meanwhile, spot rates from Asia to North Europe managed to shed a further 2.5% in value, down to $617 per teu and about 26% lower than a year ago. For Mediterranean ports, spot rates edged up slightly, to $616 per teu.

With the launch of Hyundai Merchant Marine’s standalone Asia to North Europe loop next week and the Ocean Network Express now fully focused on driving bookings to fill the ships of the merged carrier, there could be further downward pressure on spot rates on the route before the peak season demand kicks in.

One UK forwarder told The Loadstar today he thought this could mark the beginning of a new rate war on the Asia-North European tradelane. He said: “I have had two lines call me this week offering cheaper rates through to the end of April, and I expect that I can secure these into May and possibly June.”

Comment on this article

You must be logged in to post a comment.