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Transpacific container shippers are paying more than three times as much as their Asia-North Europe counterparts, as freight rates on the headhaul leg from Asia to the west coast North America hit unprecedented highs.

According to new analysis from Alphaliner, after the Shanghai-Los Angeles SCFI spot rate reached a record $3,758 per feu on Friday, North American shippers and forwarders are now paying carriers $0.64 per nautical mile.

In contrast, North European importers are paying $0.19 per nautical mile for a shipment from Shanghai to Antwerp, the lowest of the nine routes covered by the Shanghai Containerised Freight Index.

“The fact that earnings per nautical mile are more than three times as high on the Asia-USWC trade is remarkable, as carriers need fewer resources (ships and equipment) on a shorter trade,” wrote Alphaliner today.

“A typical Far East-North Europe service requires the deployment of some 12 ships, whereas six are sufficient for a transpacific south-west loop.”

It added that all nine SCFI routes had seen rates rise last week as shippers rushed to get shipments out of China before the Golden Week holiday begins early next month, with Shanghai-Lagos the second-most expensive route, at $0.58 per nautical mile, and Shanghai-Melbourne third, at $0.48 per nautical mile.

Meanwhile, the second- and third-cheapest routes are Shanghai-Genoa and Shanghai-Dubai, at $0.25 and $0.32 per nautical mile, respectively.

However, Alphaliner also notes that that the spot freight rate per nautical mile does not directly translate into profitability, as “a range of other factors come into consideration”.

It said: “Carriers also carry contract cargo for which rates are more stable. Profitability also depends on the operational costs, whereby carriers will enjoy the lowest slot costs on the Asia-North Europe trade as the majority of the megamax ships of over 18,000 teu are deployed there.

“It is, however, obvious that the current high spot rates and the very strong cargo demand on the transpacific are resulting in extra good revenues for the carriers,” it added.

But carriers are also preparing to withdraw sailings during the Golden Week holiday in anticipation of an expected slump in demand. MSC today announced the 2M would blank the departure from Nansha of its transpacific Maple service in week 41 and the Sequoia service from Yantian in week 43.

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