Better than expected forward demand prospects across major and secondary tradelanes is encouraging ocean carriers back into the charter market to snap up any open tonnage.
However, according to Maersk Broker, most of the larger vessels remain ‘sold out’, with tonnage only becoming available from next spring, thereby underpinning daily hire rates.
Nonetheless, the broker reported “another fairly active week” on the containership charter market, also noted by London-based shipbroker Braemar.
It said there had been “plenty of action once again, with a firm number of fixtures being reported, as well as several ongoing discussions”.
Analysts have predicted modest demand growth of 3-4% for next year, but according to one carrier contact, there has been a “significant improvement” in his line’s six-week booking visibility forecasts throughout its network.
Indeed, the more optimistic outlook has prompted carriers to ramp up their rate restoration programmes, in particular on the Asia-North Europe trade, where several lines have announced new FAK (freight all kinds) rates of $3,000 per 40ft for 1 January, dwarfing market spot rates that had slumped to $1,000 in early December.
And, yesterday, MSC became the latest carrier to follow suit and, with the world’s biggest carrier supporting the big FAK hike, there is an increased chance of the higher price succeeding.
“The Chinese New Year (starting 10 February) obviously has an impact, but the Panama Canal and Red Sea diversions are also prompting shippers to bring forward their shipment dates to mitigate the longer transits,” one shipping line executive told The Loadstar.
“Nevertheless, we are still encouraged by the strength of the forward bookings from Asia; let’s hope that situation continues well after the CNY,” he added.
December is traditionally a quiet month in the container charter market, but brokers are reporting new enquiries “almost daily”, despite the proximity to the holiday season.
One shipbroker told The Loadstar: “We don’t have much to sell at the moment, but we are doing good business with extensions to existing charters.”
And in the absence of new charters to negotiate, the talk across broker desks is mostly related to extensions and re-lets. Moreover, shipowners are prepared to be more flexible with hire periods, which is further enticing carriers back into the charter market.
“Charter rates for a standard 4,250 teu vessel are stable, and fluctuate between $16,500 and $17,000 a day,” noted Maersk Broker.
Although considerably lower than shipowners received during the high-demand Covid era, the current daily hire rates will still return owners a reasonable margin above operating costs, particularly for unencumbered vessels.
Several brokers report that panamax 4,000 to 5,400 teu vessels required for deployment on secondary or niche trades are still in high demand.
“The panamax segment still seems to be the most active,” said Maersk Broker, “whether it be extension talks or indeed fresh employment opportunities.”