Global ports see shortage of containers and high freight rates, when will this end ?

2020-12-08

Against the backdrop of the global raging COVID-19 pandemic, this year's global container shipping industry seems to be sitting on a magical "seesaw". On one side, there is a shortage of containers and high freight rates, and the other is port congestion. The two issues alternate across oceans and continents, torturing the fragile nerves of cargo owners.


However, although industry analysts sing the recovery of the operating industry, industry insiders are still cautious about the "boom" that occurred during the epidemic, especially after the middle of next year, the market supply and demand trend is still like a fog, and there are still larger ones. Uncertainty.


The problem of shortage of containers has attracted the attention of the Ministry of Commerce. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce pointed out that on the basis of the preliminary work, the Ministry of Commerce will continue to promote the increase of transportation capacity, support the acceleration of container return transportation, improve operation efficiency, support container manufacturers to expand production capacity, and increase market supervision. Strive to stabilize market prices and provide strong logistics support for the steady development of foreign trade.


The epidemic caused port failure


The problem of container shortages is happening alternately across the Pacific and the Atlantic this year.


According to Bloomberg data, in the first quarter of this year, European and American ports such as Hamburg in Germany, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Antwerp in Belgium, and Long Beach and Los Angeles in the United States have all fallen into a state of extreme shortage of containers. Waiting for quarantine. In the third quarter, the situation was reversed. The overseas epidemic was severe and the port was understaffed. According to statistics, the Port of Sydney, Australia had piled up at least 50,000 TEUs of containers to be processed. Many ports were charged with congestion charges. Hard to find” status.


Generally speaking, problems such as lack of containers and port congestion are routine problems in the industry, which are easy to appear during peak seasons, and are also related to port processing efficiency. However, the failure of port operations caused by the epidemic has undoubtedly extended the loading and unloading time of containers.


According to a reporter from the Securities Times, due to the need for epidemic prevention, the Port of Los Angeles has temporarily reduced the number of dockers and port personnel by about one third, and the loading and unloading of ships has been greatly affected. Due to the continuing effects of shortages of equipment and extended loading and unloading time in ports, a large number of imported containers are being backlogged in European and American ports, congestion at the terminals and poor container turnover, which hinders cargo transportation.


The global container shortage difference can be seen from the Container Availability Index (Container Availability Index) released by the container source traceability platform xChang: In July, the supply of 40-foot containers at the Port of Los Angeles was insufficient; by the end of September, the port’s container availability index had increased by 4 times. Oversupply; since September, the available containers at Qingdao Port have begun to decline. By October, the available index for 40-foot containers has dropped by half, and 20-foot containers are also in short supply.


Strong Asian exports become an important driving force for recovery


Looking at the whole year, the geographical imbalance of the shortage of containers is more significant, which is directly related to the timing of the outbreak.


According to data provided by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in mid-March, the number of global container ship arrivals began to fall below the level of 2019 and did not start to recover until the third week of June. This timetable basically coincides with the World Health Organization’s listing of the new crown pneumonia as a pandemic and the deteriorating epidemic in Europe and the United States. On the other hand, the number of container ship arrivals at Chinese ports has gradually recovered since June, which is also in line with China’s The lock release time corresponds to that.


In terms of absolute volume comparison, most regions started to recover from the third quarter, but globally, the port container ship berthing volume in early August was still 3% lower than the same period last year, and North America and Europe were 16.3% lower respectively. And 13.2%. In contrast, the number of port calls in China (including Hong Kong) has exceeded the level of last year, an increase of 4.1%.


China's shipping import and export took the lead in the recovery. The fundamental factor is that the domestic epidemic prevention and control has achieved major results, and the production side has taken the lead in recovery, effectively making up for the global supply gap caused by the impact of the epidemic, and also supporting the continuous growth of exports.


China Customs statistics show that in the first and second quarters of this year, China’s import and export growth rates were -6.5% and -0.2%, respectively. The third quarter was reversed, with a year-on-year growth of 7.5%. The total import and export volume reached 8.88 trillion yuan. Stable, the cumulative growth rate turns negative to positive. It is worth noting that due to the changes in lifestyles caused by the epidemic, the export of notebook computers and home appliances has increased; the export of epidemic prevention materials has also risen rapidly. The export of textiles including masks reached 828.78 billion yuan, an increase of 37.5%; medical materials and medicines, The export of medical instruments and equipment increased by 21.8% and 48.2% respectively.


According to information provided by UNCTAD to a reporter from the Securities Times, although China was the first country to be affected by the epidemic, in the first quarter, China's overseas trade, transportation and exports were not interrupted, so China's port transportation remained smooth and undamaged; It was in the second quarter that due to the continuous escalation of blockades by various countries, economic activities were restricted, and the transportation of logistics personnel was blocked, resulting in a sharp decline in imports from various countries. At this time, the impact on port operations has increased significantly. Subsequently, the epidemic situation in Europe and the United States became more and more serious, and the key figures of the centralized transportation industry also bottomed out in the middle of the year. At the end of May, the World Ports Association pointed out that the number of container ships calling at about 45% worldwide dropped by 5% to 25%, and most of the cancelled ships came from the Far East route.


According to data from Alphaliner, an international shipping consulting and analysis agency, the new crown pneumonia epidemic in the first half of the year has reduced the chartering revenue of large container ships by half. Starting in the third quarter, global shipping capacity has recovered, a year-on-year increase of 2.8%, reaching 123 million TEUs, strong exports from Asia Become an important driving force for recovery.


In terms of the capital market, the share prices of listed companies in the A-share centralized transportation industry have also started in June, and have risen significantly in the third quarter. The performance of related listed companies such as CIMC and COSCO Shipping Holdings also increased significantly in the third quarter.


Strong increase in container demand


Returning to the shipping industry itself, many shipping companies around the world took the initiative to suspend shipping under the influence of the epidemic in the first half of this year.


As the world’s top five airlines, Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO of Hapag-Lloyd, pointed out at the third-quarter performance briefing that in April this year, demand suddenly dropped by 20% and lost 200 million U.S. dollars per month, so it must be suspended to reduce 60% of the cost. He pointed out: "The market at this stage is driven by demand, not by inventory replenishment. The entire market is trying to get empty containers back to where they are needed."


In terms of container freight rates, the Shanghai Export Container Freight Index (SCFI) and China Export Container Freight Index (CCFI) released by the Shanghai Shipping Exchange have set new highs. On November 27, CCFI quoted 1198.72 points, an increase of 4.6% over the previous week; SCFI quoted 2048.27 points, an increase of 109.95 points over the previous week. Under the strong demand, the price of offshore export containers also rose sharply. On November 27, the export container price of Southeast Asia routes was quoted at 995.67 points, an increase of nearly 20% over the previous week.


According to China Securities Investment Corporation's analysis, the supply side has not launched large-scale capacity at this stage, while the demand side has continued to grow rapidly, which will become the fundamental reason for the increase in freight rates in the transportation industry. Although the epidemic has led to pessimistic global economic expectations, in fact, the European and American manufacturing PMI index is still in the expansion range driven by policy, which provides economic fundamental support for the increase in freight rates.


However, someone from a shipping company pointed out to a reporter from the Securities Times that in the last 10 to 12 years, the shipping industry has not made any money, or even the cost of capital; long-term low-price competition is difficult to promote the healthy development of the industry.


So, can the epidemic promote the long-term recovery of the industry? Most people in the industry are cautious about this.


Rolf Habben Jansen pointed out that the current market is very, very strong, "but it is illogical to think that this situation will continue in the next few years." He expects that the situation will change in the next three or four quarters, and the company needs to be prepared to act quickly.


Container shipping companies and leasing companies also told reporters that the outlook is difficult to predict. Although the strong demand for containers is expected to continue into the first quarter of next year, there is still greater uncertainty in the market supply and demand trends after the middle of next year. If European and American countries are still under lockdown or vaccine research and development and promotion fall short of expectations, and the macro economy falls into a sustained recession, the good growth momentum of the container transportation industry may not be able to maintain.


This article was taken from the Securities Times Netw


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