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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Has Container Peak Season Come Early?

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

May 23, 2024

Parmenion Laliotis courtesy of MSI

Parmenion Laliotis courtesy of MSI

A combination of the ongoing Cape of Good Hope diversions, a stronger-than-expected demand rebound and weather delays in major Chinese ports is the most likely explanation for the freight rate rally of the past four weeks, according to MSI.

MSI’s HORIZON monthly containerships report points out that the speed and strength of the unexpected rally took shippers in mainlane East Asia to Europe and North America trades by surprise.

Similar dynamics were soon seen in second-tier trade lanes as well, with spot rates on the trades ex- China to Latin America, Africa, ME/ISC, and Oceania all shooting up significantly, according to the Shanghai Shipping Exchange.

This confluence of factors is the most likely explanation for a freight rate rally outside of the “traditional” peak season but it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions. The barrage of General Rate Increases (GRIs) by major liners in April and the 1st and 15th of May have also contributed to the spot freight rate surge. Further GRIs are expected in June.

There are indications that major US and European importers are in a restocking phase, as the massive pile of inventories built in 2022 has been worked down. Moreover, it is possible that a rush to import cargo as early as possible - especially in the US - under the fear of serious supply chain bottlenecks during the summer months, has led to a small “early peak season.” For European importers, volumes are being brought forward in anticipation of longer sailing times and an increased incidence of transhipment.

The situation in freight markets has already significantly impacted the charter markets as well. Assessed one year T/C rates rose 15%-30% across different benchmarks from mid-April to mid-May. Vessel availability in the large and midsize segments is currently virtually non-existent. The feeder markets are also becoming increasingly tight. According to brokers, liners have been succumbing to vessel owners’ demands for longer-term charters in recent weeks.

“Considering that the en-masse Cape of Good Hope diversions will most likely continue over the remainder of Q2 and Q3, and assuming that our forecasts for cargo demand will broadly materialize, vessel availability across different benchmarks will remain very limited in the coming months and into the peak season,” said MSI Analyst Parmenion Laliotis. “These assumptions have led us to revise our forecasts for T/C rates upwards and we now expect rates across the charter market to stay on the rise until August-September and then taper off, assuming no other significant supply chain disruptions occur.”