Forwarders are reporting tighter capacity and continued increases in freight rates and volumes on the Asia-Europe trade.
Several told IFW that all-in rates in August had reached more than double those in the first quarter of the year, peaking at US$2,200 per 40ft container.
The claims are supported by figures from industry analyst Drewry that show average rates shot up by around 70% in just four months, from a low of $1,071 per 40ft box in March to $1,812 in July.
Drewry said the rate volatility was down to the removal of capacity by carriers operating on the Asia to Europe trade, a move which had led to space shortages and roll-overs.
This had caused “a complete shift” in bargaining power, as carriers “exploited the potential to negotiate rate increases in return for peak-season capacity guarantees”.
Steve Parks, director of Seaport Freight Services, said his August volumes were 17-18% down year-on-year – compared with 30% down earlier in the year – but rates were also increasing.
He said: “Rates are all over the place. Earlier in the year, you could virtually make your own deal with shipping lines.”
Parks added that the extra demand for space had also led to an increase in the notice needed to book slots from one day to four or five.
Carrie Seago, operations manager at forwarder Transvalocean, said: “Because the shipping lines have taken the stance of standing together, the [rate] increases are sticking.
“But if you look at the rates this time last year, they were $2,500 before surcharges for ocean freight out of Shanghai, now it’s $2,000 to $2,200 [including surcharges], so that’s much cheaper.”
Samantha Ruffles, import manager at Energy Freight, said the company had “no choice” but to accept July’s rate increases and the peak season surcharge in August, although prices varied between carriers.
She said most of the carriers were not negotiating and sticking to their rates.
She added: “One carrier has been introducing surcharges on a port-by-port basis, whereas everyone else applied them across the board, so that line is the main player at the moment.
“The problem is its rates are so competitive that you can’t get any space.”
Spot space was tight with most carriers, she said, apart from one that was charging about $500 more than its competitors.
But that meant no-one wanted to ship with it, she added.
Director of Drewry Supply Chain Advisors Philip Damas said: “The extreme volatility of the spot container shipping market is an industry issue; not just for shippers, who cannot forecast their transport costs or their products’ total landed costs, but also for container shipping companies and forwarders.
“This volatility looks even more acute than that of the stock market, and it makes it extremely difficult for shippers to know what a fair price is in today’s spot market,” he added