Freight companies are dialing back expectations that demand will recover strongly in the second half of the year amid growing economic uncertainty and signs retailers are growing more guarded about placing big orders in 2023.
Air cargo demand slipped again in February but exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time in eight months.
The increase in capacity reflects the addition of belly capacity as the passenger side of the business continues to recover.
As per IATA, international belly capacity grew by 57% in February year-over-year, reaching 75.1% of the 2019 (pre-pandemic) capacity.
The latest statistics from IATA show that demand in February fell by 7.5% year on year.
Transpacific airfreight rates picked up in March, although there were further declines from Hong Kong to Europe and across the Atlantic.
The latest statistics from the Baltic Exchange Airfreight Index (BAI) show that prices from Hong Kong to North America in March increased by 9% compared with February
Sources cited an ‘end-of-quarter rush’ particularly in e-commerce and garments ahead of Easter
At the same time, airlines have begun retiring freighters and some charters have been canceled, leading to capacity being nearly on par with pre-Covid numbers.
In just three weeks in March, two new giant 24,000 TEU container ships, the MSC Tessa and the MSC Celestino, came into the fleet of the global container shipping market leader, MSC.
It has now five such ships of this type in this fleet and is not the only company to have started using ships of this size.
Sad to say, the 24,000 TEU ships are not suited to the current sluggish economic conditions in European countries, with their high inflation, increased interest rates and close-to-zero growth.
There are already too many of them on the market and more are due to arrive in 2024 and 2025.
They carry containers in huge quantities when demand is positive but become a millstone when they become hard to fall and revenues are low.
In the current state of the market, they are exacerbating the irregularity of the shipping services by calling too frequently in Chinese ports which are unable to adequately fill them.
As a result, vessels are left waiting outside port, departures are postponed, longer passages are made via the Cape of Good Hope and very low sailing speeds are adopted.
The long-term deterioration in the quality of shipping services and the risks inherent to the use of big ships could keep alive shippers' interest in finding closer supply sources, which may be more costly but which offer them shorter transit times and greater degree of control over their supply chains.
They have become so rare for months that the slightest rate hike inevitably attracts attention. Last week, prices in Asia-Northern Europe flashed higher: +4% according to Drewry's World Container Index
Such a rebound in the trade had not been observed since… July 2021.
However, it is too early to speak of a market recovery from a pricing point of view.
Drewry cautiously evokes the hypothesis of a plateau.
Be that as it may, several experts believe that this rebound is primarily the consequence of blank sailings' strategy towards Northern Europe, and not of a return in demand (rather expected for the second part of year): companies cut 26% of capacity on the route in February and nearly 12% in March, a figure that looks identical in April.