Column-The local weather upside to the downturn in container transport charges: Maguire

LITTLETON, Colo. (Reuters) – World container transport charges are a extensively used gauge of general client sentiment, with excessive and rising prices indicating robust demand for items, devices and garments, whereas falling charges try to gradual or fall purchaser curiosity.

FILE PHOTO: Container ship “Evelyn Maersk” is loaded throughout snowfall at a container terminal in a harbor in Hamburg, Germany, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photograph

As the primary conduit for international commerce in completed and intermediate items – together with an amazing majority of the elements and equipment wanted to provide different merchandise – the container transport sector may supply a glimpse into the state of demand amongst international producers.

And the newest learn on one of many world’s busiest container transport lanes – from China to the US West Coast – paints a double image of the well being of patrons and companies on the earth’s two largest economies.

GRAPHIC-China-US West Coast container transport charges

The price to ship a 40-foot (12-meter) container from China to California has halved since late September, and is down 90% this yr, information from transport agency Freightos reveals.

A wide range of elements have been behind this spectacular plunge, together with fast belt-tightening by US shoppers stung by inflation, a mysterious surge in retail sector inventories, and enduring disruption to China’s manufacturing provide chain attributable to recurrent COVID-19 lockdowns.

GRAPHIC-US wholesale inventories

Whatever the trigger, the primary takeaway is that the speed that shippers are ready to pay to maneuver items from China to the USA has plummeted sooner than at any level in historical past, and divulges deep issues among the many key drivers of financial exercise inside the USA and on the earth’s largest manufacturing base, China.


A silver lining to this deterioration in international commerce flows is that transport traces have already hit the brakes on voyage speeds so as to save on gas prices and purchase time for a possible enchancment within the state of demand on the vacation spot by the point the vessels arrive .

GRAPHIC-Container throughput at key ports in China

In flip, this slower tempo of ship visitors is decreasing emissions from every of the roughly 12,000 container vessels estimated to be in operation.

The common pace of a big container vessel – able to carrying as much as 24,000 particular person 20-foot containers – is presently 8.5% down from the common pace plied over the primary half of 2021, when international transport exercise burst to life because the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 eased, information from Refinitiv reveals.

GRAPHIC-Container vessel charges vs speeds

The common pace of medium-sized container vessels is down 4.6% over the identical interval.

Whereas these pace reductions pale compared to the roughly 77% drop in common container charges for the China-US West Coast route, they do characterize a major drop in gas consumption from the worldwide container fleet.


As all the transport sector solely accounts for roughly 3% of worldwide annual greenhouse gasoline emissions, based on the Worldwide Maritime Group (IMO), a modest-looking slowdown amongst container vessels could not appear to be a major local weather milestone.

However with 2021 transport emissions estimated at 833 million metric tons by ship dealer Simpson, Spence & Younger – and international CO2 emissions scaling new highs final yr – any contraction in air pollution from a key driver of the worldwide economic system is notable.

Additional, because of the container sector’s clear linkages to the broader manufacturing trade, the sharp drop in transport charges and speeds signifies that general industrial exercise can be being throttled down by a major diploma.

A snapshot of the worldwide container transport fleet on November

30, 2022

That is clearly dangerous information for company earnings and the state of the general international economic system.

However for local weather watchers who’ve been alarmed by the steep bounce in emissions seen over the previous yr or so, the diminished discharge from main international provide traces is a possible trigger for celebration, even when it signifies a weakened state of key actors within the international economic system.

Reporting by Gavin Maguire; Enhancing by Lisa Shumaker

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