Pricing in final quarter likely to be much higher than last year, with current characteristics – ‘where capacity is scarce and at its limit’ − continuing into 2018.
This year’s final-quarter air freight rates on key routes are likely to be significantly up on the same period last year, with peak-season characteristics continuing well into 2018, some freight forwarders believe.
Data for September 2017 from IATA’s CASS payment settlement system showed price increases of 10% on both Far East West Bound (FEWB) Asia-Europe and Transpacific East Bound (TPEB) Asia-US trade lanes compared to September 2016. And Panalpina’s head of global air freight, Lucas Kuehner, told Lloyd’s Loading List he expected these year-on-year freight rate increases to be even more pronounced in the final three months of 2017.
“We believe there will be a much higher (than 10%) rate increase on these two routes (FEWB and TPEB) when it comes to comparing October-December 2017 with the final quarter of last year,” he said.
In September, rates on Far East East Bound (FEEB) Europe-Asia and Transatlantic West Bound (TAWB) Europe-US routes had risen by 15% and 20% respectively on the same month in 2016, the data revealed.
In an interview this week with Lloyd’s Loading List, Kuehner said that Panalpina was prepared for a peak season this year that could run right into January and only slow down after the Chinese New Year − sustained by continued strong demand from the e-commerce sector.
And looking further ahead at the market outlook, he noted: “We believe that the first quarter of 2018 will continue to be strong. The second quarter is really where the gazing into a crystal ball begins.”
Kuehner added: “We think some of the very strong demand we are seeing at the moment is due to restocking, which will come to a stop around Q2. But it’s really just experience speaking here.
“If I look at all of the facts and the indicators, then there’s no reason why the current challenges will go away. I think the air cargo community − shippers, airlines, forwarders − have to get used to a market environment where capacity is scarce and at its limit, at least for several more weeks, probably months.”
As reported in Lloyd’s Loading List other forwarders have also predicted that strong air freight demand that has been driving up prices and creating backlogs on some trades looks set to continue until the end of 2017 and into early 2018.
Lloyd’s Loading List also reported earlier this month air freight rates on the TAC Index from Hong Kong to the US had reached a year-high of HKG$36.90 ($4.70) per kg, up from just US$2.1 per kg in February and US$3.98 per kg on 25 September. From Hong Kong to Europe, meanwhile, average rates reached another 2017 record of HGK$23.36 (US$3) per kg.
One source told Lloyd’s Loading List that air freight charter flight prices were exceeding US$730,000 on transpacific trades from Asia.
Brian Wu, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding, confirmed that slot shortages for charters ex-Hong Kong was a long-standing issue, while other China gateways were also “very congested”. Wu also said that while nominal rates ex-Hong Kong might theoretically be US$4 per kg, customers may be paying VIP rates of US$7 per kg to jump the queue.
As for when the air freight demand surge will end, Wu commented: “I wish I knew… I hope it will last forever. It is traditionally slack after Chinese New Year, so we will see.”
However, the picture is reportedly mixed across Asia, with the opportunity of lower rates for customers able to move cargo through less-congested gateways.