Shipping executives and industry watchers say contract prices for 40-TEU containers are headed for a dip following the trend in spot prices, despite rates still creeping up on some routes
Drewry’s WCI composite index says spot prices fell for the 27th consecutive week particularly on the Shanghai-Los Angeles corridor, indicating weak US demand
Xeneta and CMA CGM chief executives say long-term rates are now under pressure from slowing demand in the West due to inflation
Long-term container rates have begun dropping, as they track the direction of global spot rates for 40-foot boxes, according to a shipping executive and industry watchers, as soft demand due to high inflation in the United States and Europe is putting pressure on box prices.
Drewry Supply Chain Advisors said on September 1 its World Container Index composite index declined 5% from a week ago to US$5,661.69 per forty-foot equivalent units (FEU), its 27th consecutive week of contraction. The index has dropped 43% from a year ago.
Data from online platform Xeneta shows that long-term rates for FEU containers rose 4.1% in August, taking rates 121.2% higher year on year on August 31, but shipping executives admit rates are reversing.
“[D]espite softening spot rates, uneven demand and ongoing supply chain issues, the world’s leading carriers remain on course for another bumper year of profits,” an update from Oslo-based Xeneta was quoted by Splash as saying.
Signs are appearing that new long-term contracted rates, which have trended upwards since the disruptions and port congestions began in the 2021 peak season, are actually starting to drop on key trading corridors.
Xeneta said, however, since carriers are replacing expiring contracts with considerably lower rates, the average paid by all shippers is still climbing.
“There’s no doubt the major carriers have had it their way in negotiations for some time,” said Xeneta chief executive Patrik Berglund.
“The spectacular results they saw in 2021 will no doubt be repeated, and even bettered, this year, as seen by the huge profits that defined many Q2 financial reports. But there is a sense that change is in the air.”
After a long spell of container rates rising to abnormally high levels that drove up liner profits to record highs lately, rates are now expected to inevitably go the direction of declining spot markets. Liner top executives agree.
“What we’ve been seeing now for many weeks is a decrease of freight rates in almost all sectors. We expect that decrease to continue. I don’t think we’ll see a strong drop but rather a soft landing,” CMA CGM chairman and CEO Rodolphe Saadé told Bloomberg a week ago.
Saadé reiterated that view in CMA CGM’s results briefing on September 2. He said inflationary pressures have caused a slowdown in consumer spending and therefore a softening in demand for maritime shipping in recent weeks.
“In some regions, these developments have led to a decline in spot freight rates,” Saade said. His view was echoed by Berglund.
“Volumes are dropping and, as expected, long-term rates are beginning to follow the trend set by the spot market,” the Xeneta CEO said.
A slowdown is expected in China’s exports to the United States and Europe this peak season as its manufacturing sector has been affected by anti-pandemic restrictions and industries face water shortage due to drought.
A lockdown in Chengdu city was imposed on September 1 on its 21 million population after 157 new COVID-19 cases were detected, raising the number of infections to over 600. Observers said the lockdown could affect its export industries icluding electronics, information technology, food processing, machinery and automobiles, as happened in Shanghai earlier.
Drewry’s WCI composite index rate of $5,662 per FEU container is now 45% below the $10,377 peak in September 2021, but remains 55% above the $3,664 5-year average. The average WCI for the year to date is $7,928 per FEU , still $4,265 above the five-year average.
Spot rates on the Shanghai-Los Angeles route fell 9%, or $565, to $5,562 per FEU. Spot rates on Shanghai-Rotterdam and Shanghai-Genoa routes fell 5% each to $7,583 and $7,971 per FEU.
Shanghai-New York rates decreased 3%, or $265, to $9,304 per FEU. Similarly, Rotterdam-New York rates eased 1% to $6,839 per FEU.
Los Angeles-Shanghai rates gained 1% to $1,262 per FEU box, while Rotterdam-Shanghai and New York-Rotterdam rates hovered around the previous week’s level.