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Secondhand container prices surge on Asian box shortage

A shortage of shipping containers in Asia has seen prices for secondhand boxes skyrocket, particularly in China, according to Container xChange.

A combination of container lines rolling back blanked sailings on the transpacific trade and a spike in imports from Asia into Europe in July and August as lockdowns eased has left lines struggling to return equipment to Asia. The result is lines are suffering a shortage of containers at Asian load ports for exports.

A container availability index from Container xChange illustrates the problem with availability in the Port of Qingdao, China dropped from 0.7 in week 36 to 0.35 now – a value of less of 0.5 indicates a shortage of equipment. On the flip side containers are piling up at destination ports with the availability of 40-foot containers in the Port of Los Angeles standing at 0.57 on 11 September compared to 0.11 in week 35.

One solution is to buy secondhand containers but as figures from Container xChange show this has become an increasingly expensive proposition especially in China. The average price for a container manufactured between 2000 – 2005 across all Chinese ports stands at $1,744 with peak prices considerably higher.

“With +115% in week 28, +90% in week 32, and +78% in week 35 compared to the average, we can see that sellers ask for higher prices due to lower container availability in Asia,” Container xChange said.

Secondhand containers are considerably cheaper in European ports but need to be repositioned to Asia meaning they do not solve the immediate availability issue, as well as additional costs to move the boxes back to Asia. Prices for units built between 2000 and 2005 cost $1,262 on average in Rotterdam, $1,337 in Antwerp and $1,384 in Hamburg.

The shortage in Asia looks set to continue. ”Strong demand in the US for e-commerce merchandise and medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment, will last into October, and probably beyond that. Carriers are now cutting back on additional free days of usually 20 days or more for large retailers while keeping the free storage time of three days,” Container xChange said.

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