FreightWaves SONAR: Container-Import Roller Coaster: Down, Up, Down … Up?

Written by Greg Miller, Senior Editor, FreightWaves
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U.S. container imports are on a wild ride. They plunged in March after the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. They bounced back in April when delayed bookings were loaded after China came back online. Beginning in May, they sank again as container carriers “blanked” (canceled) sailings. Now, it looks like there could be at least some momentum in the positive direction.

Carriers blanked around 20% of inbound capacity in May and June in response to U.S. cargo importer cancellations that started in late March.

But carriers may have overshot with their schedule cuts. Some importers appear to have concluded that they pulled back too much in light of renewed demand after states began reopening.

THE Alliance (Hapag Lloyd, ONE, Yang Ming) recently announced that “in view of increasing demand,” it was reinstating two trans-Pacific sailings: the voyage of the YM Mandate, with a capacity of 6,572 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), leaving China May 29 and arriving in Los Angeles on June 16, and the sailing of the 10,000-TEU Seaspan Brightness, departing China May 25 and arriving in Los Angeles June 10.

Nerijus Poskus, global head of ocean freight at Flexport, recently told FreightWaves that most current trans-Pacific sailings are full, with excess cargo having to be “rolled” to subsequent sailings.

Meanwhile, the premium trans-Pacific service of Matson recently added extra loaders “in order to meet strong demand,” including a sailing by the 2,824-TEU Capt. Thanasis arriving in Long Beach on May 26. An extra loader is an unscheduled extra sailing, the opposite of a blank sailing.

Higher-than-expected demand in May and June could compel carriers to blank a lower percentage of Asia-U.S. sailings starting in July. At last count, July blanked sailings were at around 10% of original schedules, i.e., half of the May-June cancellation levels.

The caveat to all of these green shoots is that they may be temporary. The world’s largest carrier, Maersk Line, expects volume to be down 20%-25% through June and has provided no guidance on the third quarter. 

It’s entirely possible that high unemployment, business bankruptcies and loss of consumer confidence could propel America’s container-import roller coaster further downhill in the second half.

Chart by FreightWaves SONAR

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