Air cargo rates have shown a slight increase, indicating a slight tightening in the air cargo market, according to reports from indices and forwarders. Last week, the Baltic Air Freight Index increased by 1%, breaking a streak of weekly declines. In addition, global tonnages in the first two weeks of June were down only 4%, a smaller year-on-year decline compared to previous months.
Numbers suggest a stable trend in tonnages and average global air cargo prices, continuing to flatten the negative trend. The improved market conditions for airlines can be attributed to solid e-commerce business from Asia. While rates grew by 1% out of Shanghai, they fell by 1.7% out of Hong Kong. The China-Europe route experienced a decline of 1.4%, possibly influenced by flight cancellations due to NATO military exercises. However, rates between China and the US remained relatively flat, with a marginal increase of $0.01 to $4.22 per week.
Air index for China to North Europe had declined by 3% in the past month, while the same index for China to North America witnessed significant growth of 20%, reaching $5.60/kg for shipments between 100kg and 300kg, and an overall 8% increase across all weight categories.
The market from Vietnam to the US showed signs of tightening. Global prices remained relatively stable, but tonnages varied across different regions. Notable decreases were observed between Europe and Central/South America (northbound -11%, southbound -7%), Europe and Africa (both directions -8%), and ex-Central & South America to North America (-6%). Conversely, flows from North America showed growth to Asia Pacific (+9%), Central & South America (+5%), and Europe (+5%).
Forwarders have reported an increase in inquiries about air cargo this month compared to previous periods. While some analysts and airlines predict a relatively lackluster peak season, others are more optimistic. Poor procurement strategies by retailers may cause a last-minute rush for Christmas presents that can only be fulfilled through air cargo.
Although rates and tonnages vary across different regions, the industry remains cautiously optimistic, with potential growth opportunities and anticipation of increased demand for air cargo services in the near future.
Diversification: With the shifting rates and tonnages between various regions, it would be wise for companies to diversify their air freight operations, engaging with different regions to balance the risks associated with rate changes.
Anticipation of Peaks: As the holiday season approaches, companies should prepare for potential last-minute surges in air freight demand. Adequate planning and procurement strategies can prevent reliance on more expensive air freight for last-minute shipments.
Market Monitoring: With the cautiously optimistic outlook, businesses should stay abreast of market trends and growth opportunities that may arise, allowing for more informed decision making.
Ocean carriers are currently facing significant challenges as rates continue to decline, resulting in a severe financial strain. The second quarter is expected to be particularly difficult, with many carriers projected to incur losses. Both spot rates and contract rates for container shipping have collapsed, necessitating the removal of capacity to restore a healthy supply-demand balance.
Xeneta, a leading data platform, reported a substantial decrease of nearly 50% in its contract rate index during the second quarter. This decline is almost as remarkable as the rate explosion contributing to carriers’ profitability in 2022. Despite a seemingly stabilized Asia to North Europe container spot index, reports suggest that the actual spot rates for this route have fallen well below $1,000 per 40ft.
The situation is equally challenging on the Asia-Mediterranean route, as carriers introduced additional capacity to capitalize on the relatively robust demand. This route experienced a 2% decline, and with further capacity upgrades expected, rates are anticipated to continue heading downwards.
Ocean carriers operating in the Asia-North America trade lane are also struggling. US warehouses remain full, and the anticipated de-stocking that would drive more purchase orders is taking longer than expected. As a result, demand in the US has weakened, contributing to a decline in consumer confidence. Spot readings for the Asia-US west coast and the Asia-US east coast have both witnessed significant decreases.
Despite average rates, carriers have offered rates as low as $1,000 or below for the west coast. On the transatlantic route, spot rate indices hover around $2,000 per 40ft, but carriers in alliances have resorted to substantial discounting, with rates as low as $1,300 becoming common.
Ocean carriers are under immense pressure to navigate these challenging circumstances. They try to find ways to reduce capacity and restore profitability in a market where rates continue to plummet. Effective capacity management and innovative solutions are crucial to weathering this storm and reestablishing stability in the ocean shipping industry.
Negotiate Long-Term Contracts: With falling spot rates, businesses may consider locking in long-term contracts at lower prices now to benefit from the downturn.
Explore Capacity Booking Agreements: Given the pressure on ocean carriers to reduce capacity, companies could explore capacity booking agreements with carriers to secure space in advance.
Investigate Alliance Carriers: The current discounting trend amongst alliance carriers could provide an opportunity to secure lower rates, improving the bottom line.
ROAD FREIGHT & MULTI-MODAL
A loan of 50 Million Euros has been granted by the European Investment Bank (EIB) to assist with developing a new cargo terminal at the Varna port in Bulgaria. Logistic Centre Varna AED, a part of Bulgaria’s Buildcom Group, will oversee the development of the terminal, which is expected to be operational by the second quarter of 2026. The project includes constructing a new quay, silo, storage facilities, and railway and road access. This investment aims to enhance Varna’s role as a significant hub for Ukrainian grain exports and upgrade its position in the grain and bulk goods sector.
Varna Port, used for Ukrainian grain exports, is set to increase its contribution to the market with the new terminal. Other developments could centralize Varna’s position as a transportation hub. The project plans to build a railway line connecting the port of Thessaloniki to Ruse in Bulgaria. This railway route will pass through Greek ports such as Kavala and Alexandroupolis before reaching the ports of Burgas and Varna and, finally, Ruse. The project aims to strengthen connectivity in the region.
In parallel, the Ruse-Varna railway is undergoing a major rehabilitation project to improve freight mobility. Bulgaria’s first-ever railway, constructed in 1886, is undergoing upgrades to improve the conditions for intermodal sea-railway-river transportation. The goal is to enhance the connection between Bulgaria’s main ports and promote regional intermodality.
The investment by EIB, along with the Sea2Sea project and the rehabilitation of the Ruse-Varna railway, demonstrates the commitment to developing Varna’s transport infrastructure and fostering economic growth. These initiatives aim to improve trade and establish efficient transportation networks, solidifying Varna’s position as a key player in the grain and bulk cargo industry.
Capitalize on Infrastructure Improvements: The significant investments and improvements in the Varna port, as well as the associated rail and road networks, suggest a potential hub for efficient logistics. Companies should explore the possibility of leveraging these enhancements for their operations.
Consider Intermodal Transport: The upgrade of Varna’s transport infrastructure may open up opportunities for more efficient intermodal transportation, potentially reducing costs and improving logistics efficiency.
Foster Partnerships: Given the intended enhancement of Varna as a hub for Ukrainian grain exports, businesses in related industries should consider fostering partnerships with local operators for increased business opportunities.
Amongst the myriad uncertainties in the region currently, rail strikes may occur in Germany during autumn if negotiations between trade union EVG and Deutsche Bahn (DB) fail to yield satisfactory results. EVG prefers strikes during this period to minimize disruptions to passenger services during the holiday season. However, the rail freight industry would still be impacted regardless of the timing of the strikes.
EVG recently announced that a voting session would be held among its members to decide on the strikes. If 75% of the voters express dissatisfaction with DB’s proposal, the union is prepared to intensify its actions, potentially leading to extensive strikes throughout the autumn.
Despite initial agreements and EVG’s withdrawal from a strike in May to continue negotiations, the situation between EVG and DB has deteriorated. Irreconcilable differences in wage increases and the application timeframe of the collective bargaining agreement have led to a failure in negotiations, as stated by EVG.
The voting date for the strikes has not been disclosed yet, leaving the potential for continued uncertainty. Both parties need to find common ground and work towards fulfilling each other’s demands to avoid disruptions to the rail network, mitigating the impact on passengers and freight services.
Contingency Planning: Given the potential for rail strikes in Germany, companies should have contingency plans in place, such as alternative transport modes or routes, to mitigate the impact on their supply chain.
Engage with Other Service Providers: Companies can begin engaging with other rail service providers to ensure that there are backup options available in case of disruptions due to strikes.
Wiima Logistics is a provider of fourth-party logistics (4PL) services. The 4PL service provides the customer with a complete solution for supply chain management, administration and outsourcing.
4PL operations can be described as outsourcing the management and coordination of the entire supply chain – this allows the customer to focus on their core business.
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