Asia to Oceania trade is expected to see an increase in volumes throughout the year, but it seems unlikely that it will be spectacular, according to shipping consultancy Drewry.
Early data for 2018 suggests that the trade is stabilising, with demand growth of 11.5% year-on-year for the first two months, “a rate which has to be treated with some caution” due to an imperfect comparison with different dates for Chinese New Year.
Demand from Asia to Australasia stagnated in the second half of 2017. Southbound container traffic from Asia to Australasia inched forwards by 1% last year to reach 2.6 million TEU, representing the lowest growth rate in five years.
Last year’s slowdown was the result of a 6.3% drop in volumes from Southeast Asia to 750,000 TEU, which was counteracted by a rise of 4.1% from the larger Northeast Asia export market that approached 1.9 million TEU.
There has been very little activity in the past 12 months in terms of service changes on either Northeast or Southeast Asia legs, with monthly adjustments almost exclusively being the result of missed voyages.
Despite the absence of any wholesale service changes during the demand slump last year, the monthly tinkering with capacity was sufficient to boost southbound ship utilisation and spot market freight rates to the point that by January 2018 prices had doubled in the space of six months.
However, Drewry said that spot rates endured a painful drop in March, which implies that not enough is being done on the supply side to prevent utilisation from falling.
“Spot rates on this trade remain comfortably above where they stood at the same point last year, but to arrest the current slide carriers will be hoping for an improvement in demand or else they will have to be prepared to make bigger capacity adjustments than before,” Drewry concluded.