HEADHAUL demand on the Asia-North Europe trade lane rose by 5.9 per cent in the first eight months of the year, up from just 2.9 per cent in 2018, however, evidence of "predatory pricing" by container shipping lines meant "they had missed out on the benefits", according to Drewry that cited data from CTS.
Drewry said the route appeared to have benefited from the US-China trade war, as Chinese exporters looked to Europe to compensate for the drop in US traffic.
The "bad news", it said, was that the demand upcycle has come to an end and it was unlikely that this growth level would be sustained, reported London's The Loadstar.
Indeed, a disappointing peak season and a weak outlook for forward bookings has dragged down spot rates, which have lost a quarter of their value in the past month, falling to under US$600 per TEU.
Moreover, anecdotal reports to The Loadstar have confirmed the existence of short-term market Asia-North Europe rates being touted at below $500 per TEU for volume customers as carriers attempt to fill empty slots.
They will count on a raft of blanked sailings around the Chinese Golden Week holiday, along with the 2M's temporary suspension of its AE2/Swan loop, being enough to 'stop the rot' on the spot market and, hopefully, act as the catalyst for a rate recovery.
Drewry pointed out that westbound capacity in September was down 1.4 per cent compared to the same month last year, as the 2M's loop was withdrawn one week earlier than originally planned and Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) withdrew its AEX standalone service.
Ocean liners may now be forced to take tougher action to support the spot rate malaise, which could lead to the last-minute cancellation of sailings, causing rollover of containers and general disruption to the supply chain.
Drewry said: "The concern now among carriers must be that, with the annual BCO (beneficial cargo owner) service contract negotiations looming, whatever gains are made on a higher bunker surcharge will be negated by lower ocean rates for 2020 contracts."
It added that the "disconnect between supply and demand fundamentals and freight rates" was evidence of a "return to predatory pricing on the part of some carriers within the trade".