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Asia-North Europe spot rates on the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index gave up another $143 this week, falling to $1,198 per teu.

It represents the biggest weekly fall since February and takes the index back to the end of July, before the round of early August general rate increases (GRIs).

The fundamentals of an 8% year-on-growth in trade, a good peak season and vessel utilisation factors in excess of 90% seem to hold little sway in this volatile tradelane, and spot rates continue to decline after short-lived GRI-induced spikes.

Indeed, such is the influence of spot rates in today’s market that Maersk Line, which has previously dismissed their importance – insisting that it preferred to rely on annual contract business – has admitted defeat and embraced the use of the indices to a much greater extent in order to fill its ships.

However, if ocean carriers cannot get GRIs to stick when the supply and demand equation is in their favour, the worry must be what happens to freight rates when the peak season fizzles out and demand for space slackens?

Meanwhile, the erosion of recent GRIs will be of particular concern to Hapag-Lloyd, which, after this week posting an “unsatisfactory” $237m loss for the first six months, was obliged to give a positive outlook, saying that it expects to report a “better result” in the second half of the year.

The German carrier, like its Singapore rival APL, was unable to return to profit in what was generally regarded as a reasonable quarter, with higher-than-expected demand and lower fuel costs mitigating the effect of stubbornly low freight rates.

Indeed, it was a period that has so far seen some of their peers, such as OOCL and the trio of Taiwanese carriers, return to the black and next week’s results from market leader Maersk will probably confirm the quarter as one of satisfactory trading.

Hapag-Lloyd said in its commentary to the interim results that “once again the announced freight rate increases could not be implemented”, having seen its average rate from Asia to Europe fall to $1,158 per teu as it, presumably, opted to take a soft line with shippers in imposing freight rate increases.

And Hapag-Lloyd’s problems could increase in the mid-term with the merging of CSAV’s loss-making container business, expected to be completed before the year-end.

The financial performance of the Chilean carrier in Q2 is as yet unknown, but its core Latin America market has been depressed.

Moreover, the potential $300m-a-year savings gleaned from the synergies of the two liner businesses is a few years down the road, long after the merged company takes the hits from the cost of the integration.

Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd and the equally-ailing APL will probably have one final chance to get back on track, with the industry raft of GRIs planned for September: but this time, the rate increases need to be more than a charade.

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