As the year winds close, global airfreight trends suggest a promising horizon for carriers. Indicators hint not just at the stabilization of rates but a slight upward nudge in specific trade routes.
Despite the absence of explicit signs pointing to a significant Q4 peak, WorldACD’s findings hint at mild seasonal adjustments. This observation follows a stable period succeeding China’s Golden Week holiday in October. Reports suggest that weeks 41-42 experienced a 1% upswing in tonnage and average global rates compared to their preceding weeks. This data is drawn from a vast repository of over 400,000 weekly transactions.
Digging deeper into the figures, the initial week of October, which aligns with China’s Golden Week holiday, saw a 6% drop. However, it was followed by a robust 4% week-on-week recovery in the subsequent week. The oscillations over these weeks paint a vivid image of the dynamics of the airfreight market.
Yet, when looking at the global landscape, it isn’t uniform. While the cumulative global tonnages, rates, and capacities rose by 1% in comparison to weeks 39-40, regional variances existed. For instance, there were marked decreases in shipments from Europe to regions like Africa and Central and South America by 8%. Additionally, flows to the Middle East and South Asia declined by 7%.
On the flip side, Europe’s routes to the Asia Pacific saw a commendable 11% surge. The Middle East/South Asia to the Asia Pacific also experienced an uptick of 8%. Intriguingly, intra-Asia Pacific tonnages reported a vigorous 11% growth over a fortnight, contrasting starkly with the previous two-week interval. Africa to Europe and Central and South America to Europe also registered notable rises.
Tac’s Baltic Air Freight Index chimed in with its analysis for the week leading up to 23 October, revealing a 2.8% augmentation. This adjustment has effectively slimmed the year-on-year drop to approximately 33.7%. Tac’s sentiment was more upbeat than WorldACD, viewing the latest numbers as an affirmation of a genuine festive season surge. This buoyancy is significantly influenced by the robust pricing emerging from China.
Hong Kong’s outbound pathways observed a 2.7% growth week-on-week, bringing its annual fall rate down to a mere 19.2%. Shanghai’s outbound exhibited even more vigor, with a 4.1% weekly growth. However, there were areas of concern, too. European markets, for instance, were perceived as somewhat tepid, with Frankfurt’s outbound dwindling by 1.9% week-on-week. London Heathrow, too, saw a 1.3% reduction week-on-week.
The US market presented mixed signals. Chicago’s outbound showed short-term volatility, with the annual change at -45.7%. On a brighter note, shipments from the US to China were upward. Yet, the most substantial weekly hikes hailed from Vietnam, echoing robust spot demand for European and US destinations.
- Watch for rate changes on specific routes for scheduling.
- Utilize post-Golden Week demand in China.
- Prepare for seasonal capacity adjustments.
Container shipping lines are preparing for a notable surge in operational costs. The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) announced a 15% fee hike for northbound transits set to take effect from 15 January. Ro-ro ships, however, will only see a 5% increase. This adjustment won’t impact eastbound vessels returning to Asia if their last port was near the Straits of Gibraltar, like Algeciras or Tanger Med.
The existing transit fees, determined by various vessel metrics, currently stand between $400,000 and $700,000, as noted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. With the new increase, carriers may face an added cost of $60,000 to $105,000 per journey. These rising expenses present a dilemma for carriers: absorb the costs or transfer them to forwarders and shippers, potentially through new surcharges.
This fee augmentation could also reshape the container supply chain, especially for the Asia-North America route. Currently, of the 25 Asia-North America services, 10 transit via Suez and the rest through Panama. The heightened Suez Canal fees might change this dynamic or boost demand for Asia-US west coast services.
Historically, the Panama Canal’s expansion saw shippers favoring its all-water route to the US east coast. However, recent labor agreements and draught constraints at the Panama Canal redirect container volumes back to the West Coast. John McCown’s data from September indicates this shift, with West Coast ports reclaiming market share from Atlantic peers. In particular, September saw a 16.7% increase for the west coast, contrasting with east/Gulf coast declines.
Additionally, there are rising concerns over potential supply chain disruptions; the Panama Canal, for instance, is seen as a growing risk due to low water levels, pushing shippers to consider alternative routes like the direct Asia-North America route via Los Angeles. Potential tensions around areas such as the Suez Canal due to regional conflicts loom as potential disruptions.
The capacity on the Europe-Asia lane is currently balanced; however, this equilibrium may lead to a series of blank sailings. Such occurrences could undermine the reliability of shipping schedules, posing challenges for planning and logistics.
- Plan for Suez Canal fee hikes in January.
- Evaluate route changes to avoid higher fees.
- Adjust for German toll cost increases in December.
In the UK, road freight rates experienced a significant uptick in September, rising by 3.3% month-on-month, marking the most pronounced increase since December of the previous year. Factors contributing to this rise include reintroducing the HGV levy, clean air zone charges, and escalating fuel costs. These climbing rates come amidst policy shifts that have affected haulers’ transition to greener fleets despite the economic impetus to reduce reliance on diesel.
Fuel price volatility is a concern, with projections suggesting a continued rise in rates during the peak period from October to January. Although rates remain 2.8% lower than the previous year, the early onset of increased rates may indicate a potential for even higher costs in the coming months.
On the flip side, European road freight is facing a downward trend, with the latest indices showing a 0.2-point dip in contract rates quarter-on-quarter up to July. Despite being marginally higher year-on-year, spot rates have declined more drastically, dropping 3.5 points quarter-on-quarter and 7.5 points year-on-year, reflecting persistent pressures in the spot market.
Starting from December 1, 2023, Germany is set to update its road tolls, affecting a broad spectrum of road transportation across Europe. The toll, which currently represents about 12% of a carrier’s operational costs, will jump to 20%, marking a significant increase that could ripple through the industry’s pricing structures.
- Account for UK rate rises in budgets.
- Anticipate higher peak period costs.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is investing nearly €1 billion into the Czech Republic’s railway upgrades, part of an EU “greening” initiative aiming to shift transport from road to rail, reducing environmental impact and supporting regional development. This move aligns with an increase in rail freight volumes from China, which saw a 27% year-on-year rise, with over 1.08 million TEU moved by July, primarily towards Germany.
The funding is part of a more significant EU commitment of €7 billion for infrastructure improvements, adding to an existing €5.4 billion focus on rail, which has been contentious given rail’s 5.5% share of transport movements—a decline from 7.8% in 2018.
SME haulers are wary of the shift towards the rail and concerned about the feasibility of “greening” efforts for smaller operators. However, the European Parliament’s steps to improve truck parking across the continent show efforts to address road haulage concerns as well.
- Consider EU rail investments for future strategies.
- Monitor Chinese rail volume increases for alternatives.
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