During the epidemic, consumption habits changed. People reduced spending on services such as leisure and catering, but the money saved began to be spent on ordering finished products. The unstable supply chain, the rising demand for personal protective equipment, and the large-scale replenishment of inventories by companies all prove this. According to container trade data, in 2020, the volume of container traffic from Asia to North America is 7% higher than that in 2019, while the volume on the Asia-Europe route has dropped by 5%. It is reasonable to believe that with the recovery of demand in the European market, Asia in 2021 Traffic volume on European routes will pick up.
There is a shortage of container sources, port congestion, difficulty in turnover of container ships, and rising freight rates. I originally thought that the gap in the Chinese Lunar New Year would calm the market a bit and the traffic congestion would also be eased. However, market demand is still high, and China's production level also meets such demand. The situation of container transportation has not changed much. In European and American countries, virus mutations and blockade measures are still factors that increase freight rates in the short term.
U.S. retailers will replenish inventory again and again throughout 2021
Niels Madsen, vice president of products and operations at SeaIntelligence, a Danish shipping consultancy, said that the booming sales in the US market may drive US container imports to remain strong throughout 2021. Maritime Strategies International, a British shipping consulting agency, also believes that the American demand for Asian products is the root cause of market dislocation, short containers and shortage of ships.
Niels Madsen said that in the past 28 years, the relative inventory levels of US retailers have never been so low. If you sell it, you can sell it again. In 2021, companies will have to place orders repeatedly to replenish inventory. He predicts that the year-on-year growth of US imports will not temporarily approach zero until the beginning of 2022. This is also a short-term phenomenon and is related to the sufficient inventory backlog in 2021.
What is the turning point of freight?
Spot freight rates that have not been lowered after the New Year will also lead to an overall increase in contract freight rates in the first quarter of this year. However, Fitch International believes that all of this is related to the epidemic situation. Once the governments of the countries controlled by the epidemic begin to lift the ban, once the problem of instability in the supply chain is resolved, freight rates will fall.
The Fitch International report emphasized that the current high container freight rates are unsustainable, and industry competition is fierce. Once the supply chain tension eases, freight rates will begin to return to rationality in the medium term. In addition, this industry is also facing potential geopolitical tensions, trade protectionism risks, and uncertainties in economic recovery in different regions.
With the gradual roll-out of vaccination work and the warming of the climate, European countries have stepped up their efforts to lift the ban and release the ban, and market conditions and consumption habits will once again change. "