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Early hints of container demand rebound expectations seen in China

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HAMBURG : An increase in port congestion and container pickup charges in China point to a recovery in demand for container transportation.

According to date from container logistics platform Container xChange, pickup charges from China to Europe Med for 40 ft High cube boxes rose from $513 in week 1 2023 to $563 in week 5, an increase of 9.7%. The increase suggests container operators expect a boune back, said Container xChange.

“Similarly, average prices for 40 ft high cube containers increased from $3662 in week 1 in China, and increased by 3.6% to $3794 in week 5. Though the increase is not significant, the fact that the downward trajectory has reversed is a good sign for many in the industry,” the company said in its monthly report.

Market movements in China come as the country endures an outbreak of COVID-19 after easing its restrictions, mixed with the usual disruption around Chinese New Year.

Container xChange’s Container Availability Index (CAx) showed greater congestion at ports in China in January compared to the last three years, suggesting a greater availability of containers.

“The CAx readings stay elevated as compared to last three years across the ports of Shanghai, Ningbo, Tianjin and more. This indicates more inbound containers and few outbound containers which corroborates well with the current situation of factory closures in China and labour shortage there because of the [COVID ]infections,” said Container xChange.

Rising inbound containers to China after the new year holiday are traditionally caused by a repositioning of units back to China after the peak season import rush in Europe and America; this year the strategy has been a focus of container lines.

“The rebound of trade in China, and hence the container trade rebound, will depend on the pace of the reopening in China, that is, how quickly do production volumes return to normal there. It is going to be interesting to see what happens when inventory stock levels in import countries have been rebalanced and there is a need to reorder,” said Christian Roeloffs, cofounder and CEO, Container xChange.

“Effectively the question is whether importers are still wary of supply chain disruptions that will influence them to buy early or will they return to ‘just-in-time’ model. In any case, we do expect to see a demand uptick—also because recent GDP figures make a recession in Europe less likely. However, because demand really plummeted a lot, we will not see demand reviving to pre-covid levels or even the ‘during covid’ levels too quickly.” he added.

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