Some liner services are reported to have full ships again, container spot rates have stabilised, the charter market is bullish and ocean carriers are back at shipyards ordering new tonnage.
It seems the week has started positively for carriers and shipowners, with ‘green shoots’ of a recovery starting to emerge.
Today’s Ningbo Containerized Freight Index (NCFI) commentary reports that during the past week, container spot rates increased on 15 of the 21 export routes it tracks from the Chinese port.
For instance, on the key Asia to Europe tradelanes, it says “some voyages sailed with full loads”, and that carriers had “pushed up market rates for April voyages”.
The return in demand across their networks has prompted carriers to go back into the charter market to secure more tonnage, thus firming-up rates and extending time-charter periods. Indeed, both Braemar and Maersk Broker are seeing more activity, which is leading to increased daily hire rates.
“The activity level continues to be high which has now led to increasing charter rates for specific segments and a 12-month period is becoming the new normal,” said Braemar, echoed by container market analysts at Maersk Broker who added: “prompt tonnage across all segments is very scarce, and we expect time-charter rates to continue their firming trend and average periods to carry on rising.”
The shipbrokers noted that modern tonnage was “attracting healthy premiums” and added: “While a few clouds remain on the horizon, the economic outlook is brightening and a general sense of longer-term optimism is slowly creeping into the market.”
Meanwhile, brokers have told The Loadstar CMA CGM had taken over from MSC as “the most aggressive carrier” in snapping up ships as soon as they become open. It has been linked with more than 20% of all fixtures concluded so far this year.
MSC, Cosco, Hapag-Lloyd and ONE have also recently agreed new charters, but not to the same extent as the French carrier.
Moreover, CMA CGM is prepared to offer longer time-charter periods, turning the heads of shipowners and beating off bids from rival carriers.
And, notwithstanding the huge orderbook of 7m teu – of which 2.5m teu is stemmed for delivery this year – the carriers are back at Asian shipyards to try to order even more tonnage.
But they are facing stiff competition for construction slots from other sectors, particularly the booming tanker market, which has an elderly fleet in need of replacement.
Maersk Broker said it understood that both CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd had recently approached South Korean yards for the construction of methanol-ready dual-fuelled smaller units of about 4,000 teu. It believed the Hyundai Mipo Dockyard was “the frontrunner” for the projects, for deliveries in H2 25 and through 2026.
But it added: “However, the earliest H2 25 slots are being contested by tanker projects, where interest and enquiries are continuously increasing.”