Xeneta: Long-Term Ocean Freight Rates Are Soaring

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Boxship backlog at San Pedro Bay (file image courtesy Marine Exchange)

Published Nov 30, 2021 6:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

Shippers looking to lock-in long term contracts for ocean freight are in for some serious sticker shock this month, according to shipping data consultancy Xeneta. 

While short-term rates have remained static on the core trade lanes in recent weeks - or even declined, in the case of core transpacific trades - long-term contract rates are still going up. According to Xeneta's statistics, global average long-term contracted ocean freight rates went up by 16 percent in November alone, for a cumulative rise of 121 percent year-on-year. This follows after a record-setting increase of 28 percent in July, when all of the major shipping corridors saw significant long-term rate hikes. 

"The continued perfect storm of high demand, maxed-out capacity, port congestion, changing consumer habits, and general supply chain disruption is fueling a rates explosion that, quite frankly, we’ve never seen the like of," said Patrik Berglund, the CEO of Xeneta. "What’s more, it’s difficult to see a change of course ahead, with the fundamentals stacked very much in favor of the carrier community. In short, they’ve never had it so good, while many shippers, unfortunately, are well and truly on the ropes."

The long-term rate hikes are most pronounced for routes to and from the United States. Xeneta calculated the increase for long-term import rates for the U.S. market at 39 percent for November, up 122 percent year-on-year. U.S. export rates also rose 9 percent for the month. 

The soaring rates are driving tremendous profitability at the top container lines, many of which have doubled (or even tripled) their revenue year-on-year. Analysts with Blue Alpha Capital estimate that container lines took in a cumulative $48 billion in profit in the third quarter alone, and more than $100 billion over the first nine months of the year. This is more than the combined earnings of the last five years for the entire industry. According to third-ranked carrier CMA CGM, the fourth quarter may be even more profitable, and the first half of 2022 is looking strong as well. 

"2021 will be a year to remember for carriers and one to forget, if that’s possible, for the shipper community," said Berglund. "What lies ahead is unclear, but we can see there’s action planned to try and ease congestion at major US ports . . . while newbuilds, potential new players and the growing trend of shippers chartering their own vessels might [have an effect]."