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Container Rates from China Surge 24%

Capacity is rapidly tightening up on ocean containers from China. How will this affect the U.S. domestic market in 2010? How will these containers be utilized in the supply chain?

Fast-paced change buoyed by surge in demand, shortage of containers.

Ocean container spot freight rates on the key export trades out of China to Europe and the U.S. east and west coasts soared by an average of 24 percent in the past three months.

The rate of recovery is much faster than expected, buoyed by a surge in demand this month, according to Alphaliner, the Paris-based container shipping consultant.

Continued high vessel utilization rates on certain trades, especially on services to Europe since Christmas, have also created shortages of empty containers in a number of locations, which in turn, has underpinned the higher freight rates.

The Far East-Europe trade posted the strongest performance with spot freight rates surging by 50 percent since October from $2,500 per 40-foot container to $3,700 based on rates filed with the Shanghai Shipping Exchange.

The steep rise in rates resulted from successive rounds of rate increases imposed by ocean carriers since October and the extension of the peak season surcharge until February.

“It remains to be seen if the rates are sustainable as the Lunar New Year holidays in China in mid-February could lead to some weakening in freight rates,” Alphaliner said.

Spot rates from Shanghai to the U.S. West Coast have risen by 26 percent in the past three months and are 17 percent higher on shipments to the U.S. East Coast.

Asia-Australia and Asia-Africa spot rates also have risen over the past three months, but rates to the Middle East, especially to the Gulf region, remain under pressure.

The high spot market rates on the major trades from China to Europe and the United States have come at a key period as contract rates for 2010 have also strengthened, Alphaliner said.

Twelve-month contract rates for the Far East-Europe trades starting in January or February 2010 are reported to be about 200 percent higher than last year, reflecting renewed optimism about trade prospects.

by Bruce Barnard

The Journal of Commerce Online

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