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Container market 'normalisation' underway: Bimco

Photo: Maersk maersk_mc-kinney_moller[40].jpg
Worsening supply and demand fundamentals will bring lower freight rates for the container sector, but still above 2019 levels.

In its Q3 2022 container overview and outlook, Bimco said it expected rates to remain above 2019 levels despite economic headwinds, easing demand, and a healthy containership orderbook.

“Global economic headwinds are adding many risks to container demand and upsides are difficult to identify. Consequently, we consider our present head-haul and regional volume growth estimates of 1-2% reduction in 2022 and 3-4% growth in 2023 as best case,” said Bimco.

That demand forecast is the result of broad expectations of lower growth in the EU and US, economic troubles in China and the apparent absence of a 2022 container peak season.

Upcoming regulatory changes complicate supply side calculations, with EEXI due to come into force in January and expected to affect the sailing speed of the fleet. Bimco revised its estimate of the impact of EEXI on global vessel demand up from 5% to 10% in 2023 as container lines report their expectations of a 5-15% increase.

Arguably the main driver of container line fortunes in recent years is expected to continue to ease, with congestion forecast to reduce by 7-8% over the course of 2023.

Another looming negative for the sector is its orderbook. Bimco estimates fleet growth at 2.9% in 2022 and 8.0% in 2023, far exceeding demand increase. Although contracting for new ships has slowed, the orderbook currently stands at 27.6% of the world fleet, said Bimco.

“The resulting deliveries will greatly impact the fortunes of the container market over the next few years as about 5 million teu will be delivered during 2023-3024,” said Bimco.

Overall, the association predicts contract rates will fall below spot rates again as the market cools from its frantic highs of the past two years.

“We therefore envisage a certain degree of “normalisation” during 2023, with much less congestion and reduced vessel delays. While we predict a reduction in freight levels, we do not think that these will revert to the very low pre-COVID levels,” said Bimco.