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Freight Market Update: December 15, 2023

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Ocean freight market update

China-North America

  • Rate changes: Ocean freight rates between China and North America have shown varied trends. Rates to the US West Coast slightly decreased by 1%, while those to the East Coast increased by 5%. This divergence indicates a more complex market, where rate trends are not uniformly distributed across different lanes. In the short term, further fluctuations are expected, especially with carriers targeting rate hikes and possible surcharges due to route alterations around Africa’s southern tip, avoiding the Red Sea.
  • Market changes: The market dynamics are evolving with several factors at play. The National Retail Federation reported a stronger-than-expected peak season through October, with volumes 9% higher than 2019 levels, before a dip in November. This suggests a resilient consumer sector, likely leading to continued strength in freight demand. However, carriers are also grappling with short-term volume declines and lower rates, prompting strategies to introduce or increase various fees. This scenario points towards a potentially challenging environment for shippers, with heightened cost sensitivity and the need for agile planning in response to these market changes.


  • Rate changes: The China to Europe lanes have witnessed a more pronounced rate increase, with Asia-N. Europe prices climbed 18% and Asia-Mediterranean prices surged 29%. These increases follow early-month General Rate Increases (GRIs) and further GRIs are anticipated mid-month and in January. The trends suggest a market response to tightened capacity and a pickup in demand ahead of the Lunar New Year. Rates are expected to maintain or exceed recent gains, contingent on carriers’ strategic capacity reductions and market demand dynamics.
  • Market changes: In the European market, a combination of increased supply influx and weak demands previously predicted a quick exhaustion of rate hikes. However, recent trends indicate a shift, with demand beginning to increase as inventory levels normalize. Carriers are less inclined to accept continued rate declines, heralding a period of more regular rate increases. This scenario demands shippers be vigilant and adaptive to these market shifts, particularly with the impending Lunar New Year rush and potential peak season surcharges.

Air freight/Express market update

China-US and Europe

  • Rate changes: The air freight sector mirrors the complexities seen in ocean freight. Rates from China to North America and Europe have shown divergent trends. The Baltic Air Freight Index (BAI00) rose 17.2% in the four weeks to December 4 but remains 17% lower year-on-year. Notably, routes from China to the US and Europe have seen an increase, indicative of recovering demand in these corridors. Shippers should anticipate continued rate volatility, influenced by global economic conditions and capacity constraints.
  • Market changes: Air freight markets in November experienced significant disruptions due to geopolitical tensions and natural events, affecting key hubs like Anchorage. This has led to rate increases, particularly in e-commerce-driven trade out of southern China. The shift towards e-commerce is reshaping the market, offering new opportunities amidst general cargo volume softness. Carriers are facing declining capacity, with older freighter equipment coming off the market. This scenario presents both challenges and opportunities for shippers, emphasizing the need for strategic planning and close collaboration with freight forwarders to navigate the fluctuating market conditions effectively. 

Disclaimer: All information and views in this post are provided for reference purposes only and do not constitute any investment or purchase advice. The information quoted in this report is from public market documents and may be subject to change. Alibaba.com makes no warranties or guarantees for the accuracy or integrity of the information above.

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