Container rates alert: Container industry builds on February recovery with cautious rates rise through March

Small yet significant rises in European import and export activity, combined with increased Far East imports and continued growth in US exports has fuelled a moderate improvement in long-term global container rates in March.

The trend, identified in the latest XSI® Public Indices report from Xeneta, builds on the positive rates development recorded last month, which effectively halted a decline underway since August 2018.

Oslo-based Xeneta, the leading ocean freight rate benchmarking and market analytics platform, produces the monthly XSI® based on crowd-sourced rates data from the world’s foremost shippers and freight forwarders. This exclusive data covers over 160,000 port-to-port pairings, with 110 million data points, enabling the report to deliver unique insights into the very latest global freight rate developments.

Developments that should, according to Xeneta CEO Patrik Berglund, spread a few rays of cautious optimism across the container segment landscape:

Upward momentum

“This month’s XSI® Public Indices report appears to demonstrate the uplift the industry saw in February was not an anomaly,” he comments. “After a prolonged period of downward pressure on long-term rates they rose by 2.5% last month and a further 0.5% in March. Now those figures may not be big, but, after such a sustained decline, they are certainly significant.

“Because of the highly unpredictable nature of freight rate development – allied to on-going concerns over Brexit, geopolitics and the issue of fluctuating demand – it’s impossible to say if that upward momentum can be maintained through April and beyond. However, it is positive, especially for selected regions and trade corridors.”

Cautious climbs

Viewing the industry as a whole, XSI® data shows a 0.6% rates rise for the year to date, with the gains of the last two months only just offsetting January’s decline. The US export indicator rose 1.6% month-on-month, taking the index to its highest point since July 2017 (up 8.6% since the start of the year), while the import benchmark fell 0.5%.
Europe experienced a rise in both import and export rates, with exports up 1.4% while imports crept up by just 0.1%. The Far East import benchmark recorded strong growth of 2%, but exports dropped 0.5% – the fourth straight month of rate declines. Despite this, the export index remains robust, at 0.4% up year-on-year.

Industry change

Berglund advises all relevant stakeholders to stay abreast of the latest market intelligence, with the complexity of factors driving developments only likely to increase.

“Stepping away from the politics that have monopolized the media’s attention in recent months, we have some noteworthy industry moves on the horizon,” he says. “French carrier CMA CGM’s bid to acquire freight forwarder CEVA sees the firm looking to leverage synergies from shared procurement and services, evolving, potentially, into an end-to-end supplier for its customers. That fits in with Maersk Line’s own stated ambition to become ‘the UPS of container shipping’ and may point towards a broader future development trend for the industry as a whole.

“Set against this long-term perspective we have a short-term move by MSC, as it tries to counter sliding US import rates with plans to ‘blank’ sailings in week 14 on the Far East – US East Coast trade.

“How will both these developments impact upon long-term rates?” Berglund asks in conclusion, adding: “Time will tell. One thing is for sure though, staying up to date on the very latest market intelligence will help all stakeholders understand trends and get the best value for their cargoes.”

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