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Tighter capacity drives up container spot rates on major trade lanes


ASIA to Europe and the US spot rates surged in the final weeks of last year, on the back of tightening supply and low sulphur surcharges to comply with the newly introduced IMO 2020 sulphur cap in marine fuel.

According to the Shanghai Containerised Freight Index (SCFI), rates to North Europe have soared 19 per cent since December 20, and to US west coast ports they are up 22 per cent, reported The Loadstar, UK.

Space on ships bound for Europe is at a premium ahead of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations that starts on January 25, and carrier sources told The Loadstar they are 'rolling' containers for North European ports.

Spot rates for North Europe, recorded by the SCFI, are currently at US$1,124 per TEU, and are expected to rise again shortly as shippers scramble to get containers away before the Chinese holiday factory shutdowns.

Rates for North Europe are some 13 per cent higher than a year ago, although short-term prices now include carriers' low sulphur fuel surcharges.

Meanwhile, rates to Mediterranean ports rose by eight per cent to $1,185 per TEU, and are 19 per cent higher than a year ago.

The strong finish to the year was also good news for shipping lines negotiating annual contracts.

"We have had to bite the bullet on increases for 2020," one unnamed UK forwarder was quoted as saying, "and we have also had to swallow the new BAFs, but at least we can assure our customers they will get their containers when they want them, and not several weeks later."

Notwithstanding the apparent success in securing new BAFs, carriers - particularly those more dependent on low sulphur fuel - will need to ensure that they continue to recover sufficient amounts in the fuel surcharges.

The difference in price between 3.5 per cent sulphur content HFO (heavy fuel oil) and the IMO 2020 maximum 0.5 per cent sulphur content LSFO (low sulphur fuel oil) has settled at $300 per tonne, or double the cost of HFO, and this 'spread' is forecast to increase if tensions in the Middle East worsen.

In a related development, carriers also made some gains on the transpacific, especially from Asia to the US west coast where the SCFI recorded a 22 per cent leap in spot rates over the Christmas period to $1,636 per 40 foot. For US east coast ports, the SCFI recorded a 15 per cent jump to $2,808 per FEU over the two weeks.

A similar scenario of cargo rush prior to the CNY holiday is also being played out on the transpacific where some carriers have reportedly reactivated some previously blanked sailings.

In its weekly report, the Ningbo Containerised Freight Index (NCFI) added: "Although some of the previous suspensions have been re-operated, space remains tight."

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