Airfreight has been exhibiting a series of contrasting trends, reflecting the unstable dynamics of the sector. At the beginning of September, rates had experienced a downturn, reaching their lowest since the inception of the pandemic. Data from multiple index services reveals that a peak’s prospects seem primarily dissipated. In August, the global rate was at $2.19/kg, with consistent declines in chargeable weight for four successive months. However, this period also saw a 7% increase in global capacity.
Major trade lanes have displayed stability, with China-Europe experiencing a 2.2% decline to $3.09/kg. Despite the subdued overall activity in August and July, the sector is witnessing a resurgence and speculation of potential rate increments, primarily due to high-profile tech shipments like iPhone 15 and external factors like holidays and event-related flight restrictions, hinting at possible upticks in rates.
However, the upward adjustments, if any, might not bear significant weight. The upcoming months might unfold rather lackluster, with anticipations of a global demand surge being pushed to subsequent quarters. The current market reports do not indicate a peak this year. The underwhelming spot rates and transient timeframes illustrate the industry’s lack of urgency in acquiring the needed capacity.
Economic circumstances are not giving positive signals for the remainder of the year. The uncertainties impact airfreight and extend to the ocean market, typically a precursor to airfreight trends, showing no signs of a peak. The stagnation in the indicative container shipping market further highlights the probable weakness in overall air cargo performance.
However, specific sectors and routes are defying the prevailing trends. China-US spot rates are increasing due to suppressed passenger travel and geopolitical tensions affecting northeast Asian routes, inducing higher airfreight rates. Despite the overarching market inertia, E-commerce continues to emerge as a potential growth area, especially in China and related routes.
Shippers might lean towards solidifying longer-term arrangements as the market traverses these mixed conditions. The convergence of volume leveling and potential capacity reduction suggests that the market conditions might not present more favorable circumstances for capacity purchasers in the foreseeable future.
- Diversify supply routes due to market instability.
- Time shipments to avoid temporary rate spikes.
- Monitor China-US spot rates for cost changes.
- Consider longer-term contracts for stability.
The attempts by carriers to prevent rate collapses have only witnessed little victories in recent months. However, last week saw a substantial crash, with rates for Asia-North Europe plunging 34% to below $996 per feu. Despite this, European demand for imports from Asia saw a rise of approximately 5.9% in July compared to the previous year, marking a 2.8% improvement YoY.
Contrarily, ongoing inventory concerns have impacted the US, resulting in an 8.3% YoY decrease in July and a 13.1% decrease in August for Asia-US. The peak season is reportedly already finished, with participants noting a consistent decline in seasonal demand in the weeks leading up to China’s Golden Week holiday, anticipated to dip further during that period.
In addition, westbound transatlantic trade is witnessing weakened demand and an influx of new capacity, pushing rates below pre-pandemic levels, around 40% lower compared to 2019. This decrease in demand, described as “particularly severe,” was -16.5% YoY in July and is predicted to experience significant declines throughout 2023.
Interestingly, consumer spending in the US appears stable. But the increase in spending on goods that don’t rely on ocean container shipping, like video games, has led to a relative disconnect between spending and freight. Additionally, mitigating strategies like suspending services will become increasingly difficult due to reduced volumes and the continuous influx of new capacity—approximately one vessel per day for the remaining year entering the global market.
New capacity allocation has been majorly directed towards Asia-North America and Asia-Europe, with around 24% still unassigned. Some ships are expected to be allocated to trade between Asia and Latin America.
Lastly, the ship-recycling market in the Indian sub-continent is experiencing a surge, with prices rising to $580 per light displacement ton (LDT), sometimes even reaching $600. High prices paid by cash buyers for container tonnage indicated potential losses when selling vessels for scrap, suggesting a desperate need to secure vessels for sale.
- Adjust to Asia-North Europe rate changes.
- Lock in contracts before predicted transatlantic rate declines.
- Negotiate with carriers given the influx of new vessel capacity.
- Explore Asia-Latin America routes for potential benefits.
European road freight spot prices have fallen below contract rates for the first time in six years, a situation observed by various haulers experiencing continuous reductions in job rates. This scenario is accompanied by serious warnings from the IRU about the industry’s ongoing issue of significant driver shortages. Less than 6% of European truck drivers are below 25. But more than a third, above 55, are nearing retirement, suggesting a potential deficit of over 1.2 million truck drivers in the next five to ten years due to retirements alone. This underscores an urgent need for reforms to enhance the profession’s appeal and accessibility and facilitate easier recruitment.
While the IRU’s index shows a modest 0.2 point decrease in contract rates quarter on quarter to July, spot prices have seen a sharper decline, down 3.5 points quarter on quarter and 7.5 points YoY, impacted by current economic hurdles.
Amid these declines, some anticipate that the UK’s driver shortage might see temporary relief as it could become a viable alternative for struggling drivers in continental Europe. However, UK rates have reportedly remained stable, maintaining a balance in supply and demand even as high-paying demands, like those from Amazon, see a downturn. The evolving situations emphasize the urgent need for strategic adjustments to adapt to the challenges in the freight sector.
- Plan for Europe’s impending driver shortage.
- Lock in contracts if spot prices drop further.
- Watch the UK driver market for rate opportunities.
- Adjust strategies for economic challenges and capacity issues.
China Railways has successfully integrated five China-Europe rail connections into a consistent timetable, operating every week. Out of these, three services are westbound, and the remaining two are eastbound. This structured timetable enables the conveyance of goods between China and Europe in under two weeks.
As reported, a total of 80 trains operate within this fixed timetable. The new westbound services leave from Xi’an every Wednesday and Saturday, concluding their journey in Duisport, with transit times of approximately 12.5 days. Another service departs from Chengdu every Saturday, reaching the Polish city of Lodz in about 11.5 days.
For the eastbound connections, trains are scheduled to depart every Tuesday from Duisburg and every Thursday from Lodz, each having a slightly faster transit time of around 11.5 days than their westbound counterparts. Collaboration with DB Cargo Eurasia and RTSB manages the operational aspects of these services.
This concept of fixed timetable trains has optimized the operation of China-Europe trains by adhering to a set timetable, reducing delivery times to less than ten days in some instances, and is projected to enable more timely and efficient cargo deliveries on the Silk Road.
- Utilize new China-Europe rail connections for faster deliveries.
- Consider fixed timetable trains for predictability.
- Explore fixed timetable benefits for other routes.
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