Shippers seem to be the greatest beneficiaries of lower marine fuel costs as they see the benefits being passed on to them by carriers, according to Drewry’s Container Insight.
Maersk, for example, said in its full-year investor presentation that it assumes 70-80% pass-on of the fuel savings to shippers. Even with that level of generosity, bunkers as part of Maersk’s cost base reduced from 21% in 2013 to 19% in 2014.
“This was acceptable when all-in rates continued to rise, but they might not feel so generous now that rates are on the floor,” the shipping consultancy said in a comment.
Drewry believes that the plummeting Asia to Europe spot rates has not been influenced by lower bunker adjustment factor (BAF).
The Shanghai-to-Rotterdam rate assessment of the World Container Index has declined for eight straight weeks since the closure of Chinese factories for the New Year holidays, resting at just $1,180 per 40ft container on 26 March. The index has more than halved since the start of the year.
According to Drewry, some of the top line rate drop can be attributed to lower bunker surcharges, but the influence of BAFs on pricing volatility is waning and the latest rate slump has more to do with carriers being powerless to stop the rot when ship utilisation falls below a threshold of around 90%.
“The shrinking BAF element is also proof that carriers are passing on the benefit of lower fuel costs to shippers, although there is often a time-lag before the average BAF catches up with the drop in IFO, which is most likely a function of the responsiveness of carrier BAF calculators than anything sinister,” Drewry said.
Carriers are pinning their hopes on a 1 April Asia to Europe GRI – ranging between $850 and $1,000 per teu – that if successful would virtually triple the current prevailing spot rate.
“This quantum leap will probably be a step too far although we do think it will help revive rates to a minimum of $2,000/40ft,” Drewry went on to say.