Rotterdam OOCL Photo 54305949 © VanderWolfImages
© VanderWolfImages

Container spot rates from North Europe to the US east coast dipped below $4,000 per 40ft this week, having halved in value in the past 12 months.

The Freightos Baltic Exchange (FBX) transatlantic headhaul component lost another 5%, to bring its average rate down to $3,894 per 40ft, as an aggressive capacity injection by carriers exerted downward pressure on rates.

Indeed, with anecdotal reports of ships sailing from North Europe only 60% full, it can only be a matter of weeks before rates on the tradelane fall back to the average $2,000 level normally seen on the route. The challenge for transatlantic carriers will then be to stabilise rates at that level.

Elsewhere, contract rate negotiations on the transpacific are in limbo, as BCOs and carriers appear reluctant to commit to new deals until the outlook is clearer.

Spot rates from Asia to the US west coast are at, or near the bottom, with Xeneta’s XSI reading edging down by just 1% this week, for an average of $1,218 per 40ft, with carriers touting an absolute low of $1,000 in the market.

But the same carriers are looking for at least double that rate for contracted cargo.

Consultant Jon Monroe thinks the traditional first week of April contract season signings for the transpacific will be extended until mid-year. He said: “If no one bites, expect the contract timeline to be extended until June.”

He expected new contract rates for the US west coast to be agreed in the region of $1,400 to $1,500 per 40ft.

BCOs also face a dilemma for the US east coast, where spot rates continue to tick down, Drewry’s WCI reading off another 2% this week, to $2,598 per 40ft, suggesting the floor has still to be reached for spot cargo on this route.

Meanwhile, spot rates from Asia to North Europe also appear to have reached, or are very close, to their lowest point. This week’s XSI North Europe component was flat at an average of $1,479 per 40ft. This compares with the reading for the same week a year ago of an average $12,600 – excluding the equipment and priority load fees that were the industry norm then.

And for Mediterranean ports, spot rates appear to be on a recovery path, with the FBX reading showing a second successive week of gains, improving by another 4%, to $2,892 per 40ft.

There have been reports to The Loadstar this week of exports from China to North Europe and the Mediterranean being rolled again, as carriers tighten their blanking and sliding strategies. In fact, the Ningbo Containerized Freight Index commentary reported this week that space was becoming “tight” on most sailings from China.

But there was a more optimistic outlook from Orient Overseas (International), the parent company of OOCL, in its 2022 full-year results presentation this week. It said: “Load factors on some routes show clear signs of improvement,” suggesting ocean carriers could be over the worst of the slump.

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