The Harpex Shipping Index CHT-IDX-HARPX, which tracks weekly shipping container rates, has climbed 40 per cent this year to 439 points. Container charterers say that lead times to order containers have risen, to more than a month in some cases, as not enough are available to meet demand.
The tight market for the standardised boxes is a result of carriers cutting overcapacity and follows some bankruptcies. But the gains also point to a recovery in global trading after years of lacklustre growth.
“The market seems tight … [and] we are urging liners to release more boxes,” said Willy Lin, the chairman of the Hong Kong Shippers’ Council, which represents manufacturers and cargo owners.
Sector-specific factors such as the scrapping of excess ships and the bankruptcy of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping have pushed up the index. But, shippers also say, increasing international trade has added to the container shortage.
Rene Pedersen, an Asia/Pacific representative in Singapore for AP Moeller-Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipper, said his company expected global container demand this year will rise between 2 per cent to 4 per cent, compared with just 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent growth in 2016.
The container shortage is happening as manufacturing across Asia’s big three biggest economies – China, Japan and India – grew unexpectedly quickly in the first quarter, adding to evidence that the world’s biggest economic region is gaining momentum.