One of the few silver linings surrounding the hard-landing Chinese economy in recent weeks has been the surprising resilience and strength of the Baltic Dry Index: even as Chinese commodity demand has cratered in 2015, this “index” has more than doubled in the past few months from all time lows, and at last check was hovering just over 1,100.
Many were wondering how it was possible that with accelerating deterioration across all Chinese asset classes, not to mention the bursting of various asset bubbles, could global shippers demand increasingly higher freight rates, an indication of either a tight transportation market or a jump in commodity demand, neither of which seemed credible.
We may have the answer.
It appears that the recent spike in shipping rates was analogous to the dead cat bounce in crude oil prices: a speculator-driven anticipation for a sustainable rebound that never took place. And now, just like with crude prices, it is all crashing down…. again.
According to Reuters, shipping freight rates for transporting containers from ports in Asia to Northern Europe dropped 22.8 per cent to $400 per 20-foot container (TEU) in the week ended last Friday, data from the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index showed.
Freight rates on the world’s busiest shipping route have tanked this year due to overcapacity in available vessels and sluggish demand for transported goods. Rates generally deemed profitable for shipping companies on the route are at about US$800-US$1,000 per TEU. In other words, at current prices shippers are losing half a dollar on every booked contractual dollar at current rates.
According to Shanghai data, it was the third consecutive week of falling freight rates on the world’s busiest route. Container freight rates have so far increased in 5 weeks this year but fallen in 23 weeks.
In the week to Friday, container freight rates fell 24 percent from Asia to ports in the Mediterranean, fell 4.4 per cent to ports on the US West Coast and were down 3.7 per cent to ports on the US East Coast.
Maersk Line, the global market leader with more than 600 vessels and part of Danish oil and shipping group AP Moller-Maersk, was one of the few container shipping companies to make a profit last year. The company controls around one fifth of all transported containers from Asia to Europe.
Should the dead cat bounce in shipping rates indeed be over, and if the accelerate slide continues at the current pace, not only will shippers mothball key transit lanes, but the biggest concern for global economy, the unprecedented slowdown in world trade volumes, which we flagged a week ago, will be not only confirmed but is likely to unleash yet another global recession.
Unless, of course, central planners learn how to print trade and quite soon at that…