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Container Premiums: Rush to beat trans-Pacific gridlock keeps rates elevated

Energia | Energy Transition

Platts Global Integrated Energy Model

Container Premiums: Rush to beat trans-Pacific gridlock keeps rates elevated

All-inclusive rates from Asia to North America were little changed in the week ended Sept. 23, but were expected to maintain their current levels for months to come as US imports showed no signs of easing at least through the August-November peak season.

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Rates, including premium services fees on the eastbound trans-Pacific routes from North America, remained in the $15,000-$19,000/FEU range to the West Coast of North America and $19,000-$22,000/FEU to the East Coast of North America, market sources said this week.

The higher end of the ranges represented the most urgent cargoes that shippers were scrambling to get into the US for the late November start of holiday shopping season, a window that was apidly being closed by supply chain gridlock on both sides of the Pacific Basin.

The number of ships at anchor to berth at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex — or drifting nearby until they can get a place in the anchorage queue — topped 70 ships at the start of the week and remained above 60 ships since then. The ports are processing cargoes at full capacity, but unloaded boxes are piling up at terminals because of bottlenecks in the rail corridors that carry containers to the US interior.

"Some imports are simply not going to get here in time, and then stores will be sitting on product they can't sell at inflated price points," a US-based freight forwarder said. "It could be a bloodbath in the retail industry right around the March-to-May period. As we start to see more canceled sailings around Golden Week, the panic will shift a lot of cargoes to airfreight."

The situation does not look any better in China, which begins its week-long National Day celebrations Oct. 1. Market participants are hoping the slowdown in factory production brings some relief to the growing backlog of cargoes waiting to transit the Pacific.

"If suppliers in Asia can't ship a cargo out, they also can't bill it out," the freight forwarder said. "There is all this capital building up in Chinese warehouses, all while the Chinese economy is sputtering."

Vietnam eases lockdown restrictions

Premium rates on the Southeast Asia-to-North America routes were stable this week, but equipment availability was still a challenge with no letup in bookings. Rates to East Coast North America were heard in the $20,000-$25,000/FEU range with some priority exceptions at $30,000/FEU. Rates to West Coast North America were in the $16,000-$20,000/FEU range.

There was some relief for shippers from Vietnam as lockdown restrictions have eased up in most regions.

"The movement of goods has improved as most districts have relaxed ... lockdown restrictions, but the container shortage is still a major challenge," a freight forwarder based in Haiphong said. Carriers continue to void sailings, leading to increased congestion and pile up at Vietnamese ports, the source added.

Blank sailings and vessel delays continued to be a major challenge for shippers in South Asia as well.

"With the holiday season around the corner, it's getting even more difficult to find space on vessels even though we agreed to pay high premiums," a freight-forwarder based in India said. "[Carriers] want to have maximum capacity on China-to-US routes and it has almost become impossible to get space for short hauls."

Asia to Europe continued its stand against the growing side of premiums in the market, with almost all business being done on an FAK basis.

Some hope for a slight weakening of rates is expected at the start of October when the Chinese exporting market is expected to stop for Golden Week celebrations. Despite this, there are expectations that this could not live up to the promises of easing logistical constraints that some have billed it to.

"To be honest, these issues won't be solved in a week," a European freight forwarder. "The supply chain issues are now so ingrained in the market that, while a week will be good to ease some of the problems, it won't go any distance to actually fixing them."

Platts Container Rate 1 — North Asia-to-North Continent — was assessed unchanged on the week at $17,500/FEU Sept. 24.