Container spot rates from Asia to the US West Coast soared this week ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday on February 1.
The US West Coast component of Drewry’s WCI WCI rose 5% to $11,197 per 40ft, while the Freightos Baltic Index (FBX), which includes a premium rate element, gained 3.5% to $15,139.
On the US East Coast, spot indices sent mixed messages, with the WCI up 2% on the week to $13,987 per 40-footer, in contrast to the FBX reading, which was down 2.5% to $17,023.
In a notice to customers, Maersk said there may be sufficient labor available to maintain production during the CNY vacation and therefore it would not reduce services in the immediate post-CNY period.
“Instead, we will maintain our routine activity levels during the slow period following the holiday to resolve some of the more notable schedule reliability issues,” the company said.
Elsewhere, spot rates from Asia to Northern Europe were broadly flat this week, according to the WCI and FBX, at $14,053 and $14,458 per 40 feet respectively, although Xeneta’s XSI posted a 4% drop in its Northern Europe component to $14,525.
The decision by Maersk and other carriers to exclude small and medium-sized shippers from contractual arrangements has led other lines to increase their short-term rates for the sector.
“They know we don’t have many other options and they are taking advantage,” a U.K.-based forwarder told The Loadstar this week.
Several freight forwarders and NVOCCs have contacted The Loadstar expressing concern and “disgust” over the carriers’ tactics.
According to Loadstar’s contacts, it appears that some lines are contacting freight forwarder customers directly, offering them cheaper rates than they were previously giving them, in order to secure their business and dispense with the agent.
However, when things go wrong and freight moves, forwarders are left with no alternatives and are at the mercy of the carrier’s next rate hike or premium rate.
“Frankly, I’m disgusted by the underhanded tactics of lines we’ve worked with for 10 years or more,” said the CEO of one NVOCC.
Export rates from Asia remained at their highly elevated levels on most routes, with the weekly Ningbo Containerized Freight Index (NCFI) commentary registering an upward trend on nine of the 21 routes covered, versus only slight declines on the other 12, suggesting that any shippers’ hopes of a rate correction are still a long way off.
Even on secondary routes, such as the westbound North Atlantic, rates from northern Europe to the U.S. East Coast show no signs of returning to year-ago levels.
To contextualize the increase in North Atlantic rates, in the same week last year, the spot rate from Liverpool to New York was around $1,800 for 40 feet; the current average spot rate for the same box is about $6,900.