The week in charts: Hope for blankings to have passed their peak; LNG rates sink
Also, Swedish freight volumes steady but Chinese port calls again below year-ago level
Container lines have been blanking large numbers of sailings to cater for reduced demand, but the worst may be over. Meanwhile, cargo cancellations have hit unprecedented levels in the liquefied natural gas sector, meaning carrier spot rates have fallen significantly
CONTAINER lines have been frantically withdrawing capacity on the main east-west trades in recent weeks. Recorded blanked sailings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic stand at 456, of which 342 were on the main deepsea trade lanes.
According to Sea-Intelligence, for the Asia-Europe and transpacific trades alone, the amount of weekly removed capacity increased to 3.4m teu in the most recent seven days, from 3.1m teu last week. This means that there has been an estimated global loss of volume of some 7.4m teu in 2020.
The Asia-South America east coast trades had even more capacity removed than on services ex-Asia to Europe or North America, with capacity reductions of almost 60% forecast for week 20. On the transatlantic trade, capacity reductions were staggered, with Mediterranean capacity falling sooner than that on northern Europe routes.
But by viewing a rolling three-week average of announced blanked sailings, Sea-Intelligence noted that week 17 appeared to be the “peak impact” for the Asia-northern Europe and northern Europe-US east coast trades. Other trades are expected to reach peak capacity removal in weeks 19 and 20.
With some lockdown measures starting to lift in Europe and elsewhere, there is now the potential for a boost in container freight demand.
LNG rates are again on the decline as cargo cancellations have hit an unprecedented level in recent weeks. The outlook for the next few months at least is challenging.
LNG spot rates have slid by 50% since the end of last month, reaching as little as $22,000 per day for Pacific voyages, according to the latest data from the Baltic Exchange. After a slight recovery during March, spot rates are on course to sink back to the historic lows recorded at the start of last month.
Rates have declined on the back of LNG cargo purchase cancellations for June, as low LNG prices and negative sentiment on demand are dissuading buyers from shipping LNG cargoes.
LNG buyers cancelled about 30 scheduled orders for June, Poten & Partners global head of business intelligence Jason Feer told Lloyd’s List. “We have never had this. This has never happened,” he said.
The combination of a demand shock from the coronavirus and the option of dropping US cargoes at a small cost have fuelled cargo cancellations.
Sweden has taken a different approach to lockdown measures compared with the majority of the rest of Europe, with large parts of its economy staying open. This includes the port of Gothenburg, where loading, discharge and maritime services are operating as normal.
The port’s latest freight volume data for the first quarter therefore made for interesting reading, with an 8% year-on-year increase in containers to 203,000 teu, from 188,000 in 2019, and rail teu up 3% to 119,000 teu. On the other hand, ro-ro units registered a 6% decline and there was a steep 14% drop in passenger numbers.
A closer look at the numbers for containers, however, show that the rise has been fuelled by a jump on the export side, with a 10% year-on-year increase recorded in March.
The figures were relatively stable across the board, which contrasts with other ports in countries where lockdown measures have been more extensive such as Rotterdam, which recently saw throughput drop by 10% and warned that total throughput could dip by up to a fifth this year.
Despite the steady first quarter results, Gothenburg Port Authority chief executive Elvir Dzanic said he expects the freight sector to take a hit in the second three months of the year.
Finally, vessel calls at China’s two leading container ports again fell below year-ago numbers in weeks 16 and 17, according to new data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence.
Combined calls at Shanghai and Yangshan ports were 378 in the most recent seven days for which data is available, down from 419 last year. This continues the trend seen since week 14.
Despite China’s economy seemingly back up and running after the pause brought about by the coronavirus outbreak, the reduced calls are an indication that demand for Chinese-produced goods is down in line with the gloomy global economic forecasts.