Our latest freight market report highlights key developments in air, sea and road freight, to provide the intelligence and supply chain insights that will aid your decision making.

Situation summary
Air and ocean freight rates from Asia- Europe continue to soften, but remain considerably higher than pre-pandemic levels, with carriers working to protect them by reducing capacity with blank sailings to try and prevent further rate erosions.

European road freight rates hit an all-time high in 2022 as rising cost pressures, supply and capacity disruptions, regulatory change, lack of drivers and war in Ukraine created a potent mix of rate drivers.

Ocean

Shippers faced long delays and significantly higher freight costs throughout the pandemic, while carriers made bumper profits, but market dynamics are changing, with power shifting back to shippers.

The general outlook remains flat, due to the Golden Week holidays in China and the weak demand from Europe and the US. Port congestion on both trades continues to be an issue, as it results in longer turnaround time for vessels to return to Asia.

Globally, schedule reliability has improved to 46.2% in August, its highest level in almost two years, while reliability on the Asia-North Europe trade has risen to 30% and reliability Asia-US East Coast is just 17%.

There are hopes that congestion at the port of Hamburg and Bremerhaven will ease as strike actions have been called off, while strikes at Felixstowe and Liverpool, which overlapped for seven days, ended without agreement. Liverpool members of the Unite Union walked out for a second seven day strike from the 11th October, with another two-week strike possible from the 24th October.

The shipping capacity outlook for Q4 and 2023 is uncertain, with falling confidence impacting demand and inventory levels, particularly in the US, remaining high.

The transpacific trade saw no pre Golden Week rush, so demand is likely to be flat ongoing, but at least concerns over a potential rail and security guard strike impacting operations on the west coast have been lessened, with the rail dispute resolved.

Transatlantic volumes dropped slightly during the summer season and the shipping lines have decided not to use any more extra loaders, which means that demand on services remains high.

Air

Improving conditions in sea freight, lower sales and high inventory levels has combined to reduce demand for air freight and while volumes have softened they are stable.

As demand has slackened, so rates have softened on most trade lanes and though month-on-month reductions continue (globally) rates in July were +23% higher than the same period in 2021.

While demand has softened, it is low but stable on most trade lanes, down 10% on 2021.

Overall scheduled capacity is down 9% compared to pre-pandemic levels, but continued monthly improvements have combined to take it 16% above last last year.

Hong Kong has finally relaxed its strict COVID controls and quarantine rules, which will boost belly-hold cargo capacity and boost the city’s ailing economy, with Cathay Pacific already strengthening its network connectivity through its Hong Kong hub, launching 200 pairs of regional and long-haul passenger flights in October.

We look forward to a sharp increase in flights from Hong Kong, with substantial traffic increases in Q1 2023 and our team are ready to support the growth.

Despite the positive air freight developments, Hong Kong’s mainland border-crossing with the Chinese mainland continues to experience disruption, with trucking restrictions likely to continue impacting air export volumes, unless Hong Kong can achieve zero-Covid.

On the mainland, there has been a slight increase in freight rates from major origins including Guangzhou and Shanghai, ahead of the Golden Week holidays, but questions remain over whether rates will pick up, and how long any peak season will last.

With softened demand and recovering capacity, we are likely to see an aggressive spot market on most trade lanes, with rates likely to remain affected mostly due to jet fuel price hike and service disruptions.

Fuel surcharges will continue to fluctuate amidst oil price fluctuations and restrictions in supply, with airspace closure, cancelled and re-routed flights leading to higher transit time and increased costs, which will put upward pressure on rates.

Overland

The negative effects of the Ukraine war are increasingly being felt in the European economy, with the UK and EU both edging recession.

The EU faces continuous economic decline in the third quarter, driven by the manufacturing industry, which is particularly affected by the energy crisis. Many different sectors and countries have been affected, including glass manufacturers in France, steel mills in Spain, and fertiliser factories in Poland.

The continuing shortage of drivers and rocketing fuel prices in the wake of the Russia/Ukraine war drove up rates, but rising prices, inflation and waning consumer activity contributed to a weakening demand for European road freight, with declining activity in all major economies and inflation rates weighing on consumer and business confidence.

The dock worker strikes at Felixstowe and Liverpool could create real problems for the UK’s haulage sector, with up to 2,000 container delivery vehicles and drivers left idle for extended periods.

Drivers that typically service Felixstowe and Liverpool may want to seek work at the UK’s open gateways, but any influx of additional haulage capacity is likely to come with empty-running costs.

But if the port strikes continue, any inability to source work, or maintain revenue and profit levels could see haulage firms fail, which will further reduce capacity and drive rates up, so we must hope that employers at the ports can reach agreement with their workforce soon.

Road freight capacity utilisation had eased over the summer months, but worsened again in September, in the run up to the autumn/winter peak season. Our transport teams work closely with our network partners across Europe, to highlight freight movements and access return loads, to avoid empty miles.

Our teams in the UK and across Asia continuously scan the evolving global multimodal operating environment, to identify potential issues and adapt operations, to avoid pitfalls that may challenge our customers’ supply chains.

We share the most important news and developments, so that you can make informed decisions that protect your supply chain.

To discuss any questions or concerns you might have, about the issues highlighted here, please EMAIL for our immediate attention.