FreightWaves SONAR: Trans-Pacific Rates Surge as Volume Rebounds

Written by Greg Miller, Senior Editor, FreightWaves
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Ship at Long Beach (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Politically, the U.S. and China are barely on speaking terms. Trade-wise, they’re still very much in bed together. Cargo from China is accounting for an even greater share of inbound container volumes than before the coronavirus crisis, according to the latest U.S. Customs data.

China flows have helped blunt volume fallout along the U.S. West Coast. In fact, the Port of Long Beach disclosed on June 9 that it had handled 312,590 loaded inbound twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers in May, up 7.6% year-on-year and up 23.3% from April.

Mediterranean Shipping Company, which majority owns Terminal T in Long Beach, announced that it handled more containers at that facility on June 8 than it has on any single day at any of its North American terminals ever before.

Demand for Chinese goods has also caused rates to surge – an unusual occurrence in the midst of a global pandemic.

According to Freightos Chief Marketing Officer Eytan Buchman, “It has been a tough few weeks … unless you’re an ocean liner on the China-U.S. West Coast, where rates just shot up” due to an “unexpected spike in demand combined with tight capacity.”

Chart by FreightWaves SONAR: Daily container spot rates on China-West Coast route year-to-date 2020 (blue) versus 2019 (yellow) and 2018 (green).

According to the Freightos index, rates from China to the West Coast rose to $2,155 per forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU) on June 9 – representing a dramatic 25% increase over the prior two weeks to a level more than 30% above comparable rates in 2019 and 2018.

“The unexpected spike in demand over the last few weeks combined with tight capacity to push [China-U.S.] rates up,” said Buchman, who reported that rates have not been this high since January 2019.

Import volumes had previously been expected to be weaken through June, but they appear to have at least temporarily plateaued.

FreightWaves SONAR tracks the seven-day moving average of the number of U.S. Customs filings. Although each filing can refer to any volume, filing frequency has proven to be an accurate signal of container import trends.


Customs data through June 5 shows that filings nationally, as well as at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, have stabilized at levels well above lows seen in February and March.

Chart by FreightWaves SONAR: Number of customs filing nationally (blue), in the Port of Los Angeles (green) and Port of Long Beach (orange).

And since the recent nadir in U.S. Customs filings on March 16, the driver of the improvement is clear: China.

The average number of daily filings rose 31% between March 16 and June 5. The increase in average filings for imports from China during the same period was an unambiguously enormous 305%.

Chart by FreightWaves SONAR: Increase in the number nationally from all export countries (blue) versus those from China (green).

FreightWaves SONAR offers the most essential rail and intermodal data available, with daily updates on rail and intermodal pricing and volumes. Additionally, compare rail market trends against other modes of transportation to gain a comprehensive view of logistics markets. Users can react faster than ever to changing market conditions, giving them an advantage never before seen in freight. To learn more and schedule your personal free trial, click here.

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