As the holiday season begins, air cargo demand falls more. Compared to the previous week, week 51 (19 to 25th December) had a decline of -11 percent in worldwide flown tonnages. As is usual for this time of year, worldwide air cargo tonnages declined significantly during the week when the Christmas season began. Despite the declining trend in air cargo tonnages, the reduction at the start of the holiday season this year is minor compared to last year, according to the most recent preliminary data from WorldACD Market Data.
The fall in overall chargeable weight is typical at this time of year, with this year’s decrease being smaller than last year’s (-14% when comparing week 51 to week 50). The average rates decreased by 2% in week 51 compared to the previous week, which is a sharper reduction than during the same period last year and a continuation of the downward trend observed since the start of the month. Comparing weeks 50 and 51 to the previous two weeks (2Wo2W), tonnages plummeted 7% below their combined total in weeks 48 and 49, while average worldwide rates reduced by 3% and capacity decreased by 3%, according to the more than 400,000 weekly transactions covered by WorldACD’s statistics. Tonnages decreased between all regions during these two weeks, except Middle East & South Asia to Asia Pacific (+5%) and intra-Asia Pacific (+3%). The most significant declines were seen from Asia Pacific to Europe (-18%), North America to Europe (-16%), and Europe to Africa (-6%). (-16 percent).
Comparing the global market to the same time last year, the chargeable weight in weeks 50 and 51 decreased by 20 percent compared to the same period in 2021, while capacity decreased by 3 percent. Notably, ex-North American tonnages are down by -28 percent, and ex-Asia Pacific tonnages are down by -26 percent compared to their robust levels at the same time last year. However, outgoing tonnages from the Middle East and South Asia (-17 percent) and Europe fell by double digits compared to the prior year (-11 percent). Capacity decreased in practically every region compared to the previous year: Asia Pacific (-11 percent), Central & South America (-8 percent), Europe (-4 percent), and North America (-3 percent), however capacity increased in Africa (+15 percent) and the Middle East & South Asia (+3 percent). Despite the consequences of increasing fuel surcharges, global rates are currently -28 percent lower than they were at this time last year, averaging US$3.14 per kilogram, although they remain well above pre-Covid levels.
As freight prices on major east-west trade lanes approach breakeven levels, the voyage results of ocean carriers may soon begin to display losses.
Although the container spot rate crash looks to have bottomed out in the previous several weeks, annual contract prices are also falling recklessly. A deep-seated urge to preserve volumes has prompted carriers to undercut rates to acquire short-term reservations substantially.
Asia-West Coast rates normalized
Monday’s Freightos Baltic Daily Index (FBX) put China-West Coast rates at $1,378 per 40-foot equivalent unit. The index is down 93% from its September 2021 peak.
S&P Global Commodities’ Platts section assesses container spot rates. Shanghai-Los Angeles spot rates were $1,992 per FEU. Flat since 8th December. It’s down 84% from its November 2021 top but $557 per FEU above December 2019. It’s back where it was this time last year, before the COVID-induced consumer boom.
Asia-East Coast rates reach pre-COVID levels
This year, Asia-East Coast spot rates held up better than West Coast rates due to more robust demand as shippers avoided West Coast labor uncertainty, increasing East Coast port congestion.
China-East Coast spot rates were $2,905 per FEU, down 87% from September 2021 but up $295 per FEU or 11% from pre-COVID levels. The FBX East Coast index has dropped 16% since 1st December.
Shanghai-New York index was $3,889, down 76% from September 2021. Spot rates in this lane are $1,391 per FEU, 56% more than in 2019.
East-West price spread normalizes
In 2020-22, Asia-East Coast spot rates were higher than Asia-West Coast rates. This premium was $1,400-$1,500 per FEU before the pandemic. It reached $6,000 per FEU during the peak.
In early September, FBX indices showed it topped $4,500 per FEU. It was $1,527 per FEU by December’s penultimate week, near its typical level. As volumes shifted to the East Coast, the significant spread continued until 2022.
The disparity between East/West Coast import rates is $1,525 per FEU, approximating the pre-pandemic average, which was upset in 2022 when cargo owners favored the East Coast.
But Trans-Atlantic rates are still triple pre-COVID levels
Other sections of the container shipping market are far from normalcy. One is the westbound transatlantic market.
Monday’s FBX Europe-East Coast evaluation was $5,693 per FEU, 2.9 times 2019’s level. Drewry WCI Rotterdam-New York estimated $6,989 per FEU, 2.9 times pre-pandemic values.
But this bright spot for carriers is soon to end. Liners are adding significant capacity, which should lower spot rates.
January-February 2023, Mediterranean capacity will expand 25% over 2019. From mid-December 2022, North Europe-North America East Coast operating capacity will be 20% higher. By mid-February 2023, it might be 30% higher.
The 2023 contract rates will be lower
The annual-contract market, vital to ocean carrier profitability, has not returned to normal. Most ocean carriers move contracts, not spot. There’s a lag between declining spot rates and contract rates.
Most Asia-Europe and Asia-U.S. contracts reset on 1st January and 1st May. Even before those dates, average contract rates fell due to contracts negotiated outside usual cycles and mid-contract renegotiating. Average contract rates remain above 2019 levels, explaining ocean carrier profitability.
All indicators point to rate decreases from today’s levels, with big Far East trades pointing to new long-term contracts closer to spot-rate benchmarks.
Since the pandemic began, carriers enjoyed a golden age, but those days are over.
PepsiCo, Maersk, Siemens, and Unilever, have requested sterner EU action on truck emissions after its first Tesla Semi in December.
Climate Group and others addressed an open letter to EC president Ursula von der Leyen requesting strict targets in its planned HDV (heavy-duty vehicle) CO2 regulations, including an end to CO2 emissions from trucking in the EU by 2035.
The EC hasn’t published CO2 emission standards for trucks, but manufacturers say 50% of their sales will be zero-emission by 2030. The group wants a 30% reduction by 2027 and a 65% reduction by 2030.
Carmakers can buy the right to emit from their rivals by neutralizing their emission-producing models against their competitors’ zero-emission ones. The letter opposed fuel credits in HDV CO2 requirements. The letter argued that fuel credits “would not help eliminate HDV emissions and would mix rules, compromising their effectiveness.”
Given the price difference between electric and conventional trucks, the EU Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation must include financial help for early takers, stated the signatories.
EV100+ members are leading the way by promising to transform their heavy ICE fleets to zero-emission by 2040.
New European lines are capitalizing on the impetus of a post-COVID shift to rail, but strikes in the United Kingdom are worsening cost concerns, thereby threatening the transition.
In the past month, several new freight services have launched across Europe, including new lines between France and Germany, while other service providers have increased their offerings.
France’s company Delta Rail announced that it would establish a new container service between Chalon-sur-Saone and Duisburg by February to compete with land routes connecting the Rhine with French ports such as Le Havre and Marseilles.
Shippers say that the decision was prompted by a combination of heightened environmental consciousness and growing unreliability resulting from China’s decades-long zero-covid rules.
However, rail service providers must demonstrate their dependability under normal conditions. It is essential to properly communicate to consumers how operations within rail freight services, such as heated and insulated points and snow-clearing trains, may be more effective during disruptions.
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