Empty container availability fears slide as demand slacks

Posted by dynasty

CONCERNS over the availability of equipment in Asia and the limitations on the backhaul trades on the three major east-west routes have not materialized as expected with rates softening on both the headhaul and return legs.

Growth in empty repositioning since 2019 had seen an increase of 20 per cent in terms of TEU moved in 2023 compared to four years ago, but also the growth in full containers has increased globally by 2.5 per cent, with an 8 per cent increase in TEU miles, according to one analyst using Container Trade Statistics.

“The need to move empty containers has grown significantly more than the need to move full containers, with the back-haul trades growing two-and-a-half times faster,” wrote the analyst, reports UK’s Seatrade Maritime News.

Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News anonymously one European freight forwarder debunked this view. “We move containers out of Asia and China to Europe and the US and we have had no problems getting empties,” he said.

The forwarder said he did not use the European lines, but instead booked with COSCO, HMM, Yang Ming and Evergreen mainly, and had no difficulties returning empties to ports either, compared to two years ago when empties had been stored off-site from ports as the empty boxes stacked up in destination terminals.

Darron Wadey at analysts Dynamar said that the number of empty boxes was close to the 2021 record, “when everything went supernova”, with CTS figures showing a 7 per cent increase to 36.5 million TEU.

“Yet, despite the similarities in size of the global imbalance, we are not experiencing anything like the same mass hysteria of 2021 with everybody trying to secure apparently scarce container equipment,” explained Mr Wadey.

This year’s imbalance of the extreme nature of the 2021 experience has softened considerably as the key US imbalance, in all trades, has reduced considerably more than Europe’s imbalance has expanded.

What is more the “total imports to these two regions – the headhaul routes – are also smaller than in 2021,” said Mr Wadey.

“In fact global cargo volumes have shrunk or maintained station since 2021. Yet, over the same period, the container equipment fleet has kept growing,” he added.

Dynamar analysis shows the growth of the container fleet has outstripped container trade volumes by an average of 2.5 per cent a year, for the last nine years.