2021 is shaping up to be a golden age for container ship operators, with January’s substantial rise in long-term contracted rates being “blown out the water” by developments in February, according to the latest XSI Public Indices report from Xeneta.
Xeneta’s XSI captures the rates from shippers, with the index now being its highest ever level, up 13.9% year-on-year, with a 16% climb over the first two months of 2021.
As a result, shippers praying for a ‘time-out’ in this frenzied arena may have to be patient, warns Xeneta CEO, Patrik Berglund.
The demand for available containers is well-reported, as is congestion at ports (particularly in the US) and the disruption caused by coronavirus. This continues to fan the flames of red hot rates, giving the carriers a huge advantage over shippers when it comes to negotiations
The strength of the market is shown by the unusual fact that every key trade corridor in February, in terms of both import and export, recorded significant climbs.
Namely, in Europe, imports rose by 9.6% with the index now up 21.1% year-on-year. The exports benchmark, meanwhile, saw its largest ever monthly hike of 11.1%, driving a 7.7% increase against February 2020 rates. Far East imports rewrote the record books for the XSI with a 38.9% jump, the biggest single monthly increase seen on the indices. This leaves the index 25.7% higher year-on-year. The exports figure could not keep pace, but still showed marked growth with a climb of 8.1%.
Developments in the US were also dramatic. Here the imports figure rose by 7.1%, while exports saw their greatest ever increase in the report, up by a massive 17.6% month-on-month.
Now, Mr. Berglund says the dynamic nature of the market makes second-guessing future developments problematic, although he does see inevitable “adjustments” ahead in an evolving segment.
The congestion in the US is a good example,” he notes. “Recent reports suggest that there were 21 vessels anchored at Los Angeles/Long Beach, with an average waiting time of eight days. This comes on the back of National Retail Federation (NRF) intelligence indicating imports into major US gateways reached all-time highs in the second half of 2020. So, there’s an impetus for carriers to look at west coast alternatives, such as Oakland and Seattle, and launch new services for greater efficiency. That could impact upon rates.
In the long-term fundamental change is possible, Mr. Berglund concludes, but for the short-term shippers should be prepared for the possibility of further demanding negotiations and continuing high rates.