China Backhaul Costs Echo Headhaul Rate Shifts


  • The shifting dynamics of shipping rates between Europe and Asia, particularly China, reflect the ripple effects of the Red Sea crisis, with fluctuations in backhaul costs closely mirroring changes in headhaul trades since December.
  • Initial panic-induced spikes in rates have subsided, leading to a surplus capacity scenario, but market confusion persists due to conflicting signals and varying General Rate Increase (GRI) quotes from different shipping lines.
  • While some indices indicate declines, others hint at potential surges, adding complexity to the pricing landscape.

Rates on the Europe to Asia trades have mirrored headhaul trades with China’s import cargo paying more for carriage since the Red Sea crisis hit the industry in December. At the end of last year, eastbound cargo out of European ports of origin was US$303/FEU, peaking at US$1,066/FEU on 1 February. However, rates have since declined to US$866/FEU.

Impact of Red Sea Crisis on Market Dynamics

The market shock felt when the Houthi Movement first attacked commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea has subsided, leading to adjustments in market dynamics. Panic-induced rate spikes at the beginning of the year gradually normalized as surplus capacity in the market proved sufficient to cope with the situation.

Conflicting Signals in the Market

Despite the stabilization of rates, there remains some confusion in the market. While Shanghai Container Freight Index (SCFI) reports indicate a series of larger rate hikes in May, other sources suggest mixed messages from shipping lines regarding General Rate Increases (GRIs) for various routes and destinations. This inconsistency adds complexity for shippers and forwarders trying to navigate the market.

Future Outlook and Expectations

Looking ahead, while spot rates have softened slightly compared to the peak experienced during the Red Sea crisis, they remain elevated compared to pre-crisis levels. However, the market is expected to continue experiencing controlled softening of spot rates in the short term, influenced by factors such as the heavy newbuilding program and ongoing negotiations between shippers and carriers.

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Source: Container News