The shippers are in for struggle yet another time, with the market buzzing in speculations of liners planning of ‘blank sailing’ during China’s Golden Week holiday in early October to extract maximised profits.
China’s Golden Week to trigger new round of void sailings
The record-high rates of the latest weeks, as can be seen in several global indexes, such as Shanghai Export Containerized Freight Index (SCFI), Drewry’s composite World Container Index, Ningbo Containerized Freight Index (NCFI) and Freightos Baltic Index (FBX) are not expected to decrease in the next months.
In contrast, the scheme follows a set of tactics executed by companies to build on the pandemic induced consistent high freight rates. The partial shutdown of the major Ningbo’s Meishan terminal, so close to the national holiday, has made it ideal for executing another round of blank sailings.
With the pre-golden week rush starting usually three to four weeks before the main event, and with importers speeding up their production processes to ship their products out of China on time, constraints in ocean freight and land transportation increase the chance for cargos to be rolled and for deliveries to be postponed, according to the largest container line in the world, Maersk.
The strategy plans to significantly tighten space on vessels for the shippers close to the national holiday in China by skipping ports or even entire routes owing to lower demand after shut down and hence further push the rates higher.
Even though blank sailings close to the Golden week are a traditional practice to make up for lower demands during the winter months, this year, the cargo owners expected the liners to maintain the deployment of the entire fleet along transpacific routes after the pandemic, owing to the strong demand and elevated rates of freight transportation.
“This year’s Golden Week might as well increase the number of repercussions in ocean freight and inland transportation across multiple trades and regions,” said Maersk in an announcement.
The Danish carrier noted that while operations might remain active in most ports, terminals, and customs offices – ocean carriers might avoid sailing during this period. “To avoid waiting for the typical pre-golden week rush, we strongly recommend you to book your containers as soon as possible,” pointed out Maersk.
Sea-Intelligence sees no signs of Golden Week capacity reductions
With the Ningbo terminal shut down ensuring reversal of slight decrease in market rates in the past few weeks and increase in forward bookings on routes to the west coast of the United States, companies are expected not to let go of this opportunity to bump up the freight rates further up.
The Danish consulting and researching company Sea-Intelligence has looked at how much capacity the carriers have so far planned to deploy/withdraw in the four-week Golden week period (weeks 40-43) on Transpacific and Asia-Europe.
With the Chinese Golden Week holiday approximately a month away, normally carriers would have by now announced the full extent of their blank sailings program in anticipation of the slowdown in demand, according to the report. “Given the current market situation, it seems as if carriers will not follow historical patterns of Golden Week capacity deployment,” said Alan Murphy, CEO of Sea-Intelligence.According to the current deployment schedules, offered capacity on Asia-North America West Coast will be between 420,000-460,000TEU, whereas it has never crossed 380,000TEU in 2014-2020. Over the four weeks, 1.74 million TEU are slated to be offered, an unprecedented 30.8% Y/Y increase against a 2014-2020 average of 3.9%.
“It seems that carriers are either anticipating no Golden Week slowdown in demand or that they are prepared to keep the increased levels of deployed capacity, in the hopes of clearing backlog from congested ports,” noted Murphy.
Furthermore, carriers will only withdraw 3.4% of the deployed capacity across these four weeks in 2021, against an average reduction of 8.5% in 2014-2020. On the Asia-North America East Coast, deployed capacity will be up by 29.8% Y/Y against an average of 8.7%. In terms of capacity reduction, only 2.3% of the total four-week Golden Week capacity is slated to be blanked in 2021, against a 2014-2020 average of 9.8%.
“Demand growth on Asia-North Europe is not as extreme as on the Transpacific, and this is reflected a certain extent in the carriers’ scheduled deployment, as 12.0% of the total capacity across the four weeks is slated to be withdrawn, which is not too far off the 15.0% average,” commented Murphy.
That said, Y/Y capacity growth is still a very high 23.8%. In the meantime, Asia-Mediterranean was the most in-line with historical trends, with a capacity reduction of 15.1% against an average of 17.2%.