The 2017 trumpeted recovery to container shipping may not have been so wide as initially reported. The latest figures from analysts at Drewry indicates that demand growth on Asia-Europe routes for the final quarter of the year only grew by 0.1% when compared to 2016 and actually fell by 1.6% through October and November 2017. This could have been in part due to increased competition for market share which saw rates cut as levels of trade dropped.
These gloomy figures look even more disturbing when compared to the 5% gains experienced throughout the first three quarters of 2017. By November 2017, year on year container shipments from Asia into Northern Europe were up by 4.2%, at around 9.1m teu, but the rolling average for the year was 3.4%.
Even though the figures were disappointing for the fourth quarter, it still seems container shipping was at its strongest since 2014. There was only a 1% uplift to shipping in 2016, and 2015 saw a slump of 4%.
The Russian market is still improving and shipping to Poland is experiencing growing demand, alongside growth in the French, Scandinavian and Benelux sectors, so it's anticipated that westward bound shipping will expand considerably through 2018. There are uncertainties surrounding the UK and German markets and shipping forecasts have been adjusted downwards to compensate for these. The drop in Asia-Europe shipping rates has now adjusted and recovered to levels seen in mid-2017, although factory closures throughout the Chinese New Year will have had an impact on the most recent shipping statistics.
Containership charter rates were very subdued towards the end of 2017 but these are expected to bounce back through 2018 although they may not reach the record levels achieved in early 2017. Carriers have found it increasingly difficult to sustain rate rises and this is likely to continue through 2018. The continuation of aggressive tactics to gain market share is likely to see a continued collapse to spot rates at this time.
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