© Mr.siwabud Veerapaisarn

Shippers are still feeling sore about contract rates as demand continues to weaken.

While carrier revenues may still be 2.8 times higher than pre-pandemic, volumes continued to fall during the second half of 2022 as severe economic headwinds battered demand.

A report from the Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF) notes that spot rates dropped 20% in the six months from June, with many shippers feeling “burned” by their decisions to commit to long-term contracts, and questions range over predictions of congestion and capacity shortages.

Forum director James Hookham said: “The second quarter saw the downturn in volumes turn into a sustained decline. These are conditions not seen in the container shipping market for over 10 years, with many shippers experiencing the behaviour of the market under such conditions for the first time.”

Lines have engaged in capacity management measures in a bid to arrest rate declines, as blanked sailings and slow-steaming become increasingly regular.

Adding to shipper frustration will be the poor performance from ocean carriers, with service levels at historic lows, and arrival predictability hovering at 85%, meaning one in six vessels arrive late.

Mr Hookham said a big question, going into 2023, was how much of their diminished volumes shippers will commit to renegotiated contracts and how much will be reserved by the spot market.

He also said there were expectations that the spot market would fall below pre-Covid levels for the first time in the coming weeks, although carriers will seek to mitigate this with more blanked sailings.

“However, the extent to which spot rates are being supported by this co-ordination between consortia partners is playing out, just as competition authorities in Europe and North America are evaluating anti-trust measures and considering possible options for the future,” added Mr Hookham.

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