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Container prices surge in Europe

For European exporters looking to source shipping containers, existing shortages could deteriorate significantly in the coming weeks, according to the latest data from Container xChange, the online platform for the leasing and trading of shipping containers.

Most pricing and availability indicators now suggest carriers are continuing to favour shipping empties back to Asia as fast as possible to maximise yields on main-haul services rather than wait for less lucrative backhaul loads.

According to the Container xChange report, the upshot for shippers is rapidly rising prices in Europe for containers even though the Container Availability Index (CAx) readings point to a higher availability of boxes in European hubs, while Container xChange figures do not track empty moves.

“The confluence of theoretical high availability and soaring prices for boxes strongly indicates that container lines are prioritising empty containers over export cargo from Europe,” said Dr Johannes Schlingmeier, founder and CEO of Container xChange who went on to add, “There were signs of this even before the Suez Canal closure in late March. The latest figures suggest the additional disruption this caused has exacerbated the situation and made it even harder for exporters to find empties.”

The latest container trading data reveals that between January and April average prices for used 20ft containers across Europe rose 57% from US$1,348 to US$2,119. Meanwhile, in April, price increases for 20ft containers were especially severe.

According to the report, in Antwerp, prices jumped significantly by 30% compared to March, while in Hamburg they rose by 16% over the same period while in Rotterdam they increased 12%.

Since the beginning of May, average prices for 20ft dry containers in Europe softened slightly to US$2,249 from US$2,110 in April. However, prices for 40ft dry containers have again increased this month, up 13% to US$3,112 from US$2,750 in April.

In the CAx data an index reading of below 0.5 means more containers leave a port compared to the number which enters, while above 0.5 means more containers are entering the port than leave.

At the port of Genoa, the average CAx reading for a 20ft box in 2021 is 0.71, up from 0.26 through the first half of 2020. At Hamburg, in 2021 the average CAx reading has so far this year been 0.75, compared to 0.39 in H1 2020, while in Rotterdam the reading is 0.71 so far this year, compared to 0.46 a year earlier.

After a short dip in import containers to Europe due to the Suez Canal closure as measured by Container xChange’s CAx, inbound volumes are expected to increase again.

CAx readings for week 19 decreased by on average 4.5% to values of 0.85 across dry-container sizes in Hamburg, 0.79 in Rotterdam, and 0.835 in Antwerp, indicating an ongoing surplus of incoming boxes.

“According to Container xChange forecasts, an increase in incoming shipping containers by 4-5% over the next weeks is likely to not only increase CAx readings but also contribute to slowly decreasing container prices again,” noted Dr Schlingmeier who concluded, “These are good times for equipment owners across Europe as indications are that even if container prices dip slightly, scarcity will remain until carriers change tack and start looking for more backloads. As a result, container prices are likely to remain at elevated levels for some time, although we do think availability for exporters will improve in the coming months.”

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