The withdrawal of capacity on the trans-Atlantic going into the fourth quarter did not match the sharp drop in demand from North American importers that has led to a complete collapse of the spot market. Average spot rates by the end of October were 40% lower compared to the same point in 2019, but a far more relevant comparison is that during the trade lane’s peak third quarter shipping season, average spot market prices declined 35% and long-term rates fell almost 60%. Despite rates stuck on the ocean bed — and pledges by liner CEOs that they will slash capacity on what has become a corridor stained with red ink — the trans-Atlantic Ocean carriers appear resigned to allowing rates to fall where they may in the hopes that demand from North America will finally begin to pick up. Hope is not a strategy, however, and by the end of September, the demand indicators were all heading south. Data from PIERS shows that US import volumes from North Europe have fallen every month since an 8.4% year-over-year increase in January and were down 26% in September. While comparisons with 2022 might not be particularly relevant, the US import volume in September of 151,900 TEUs was still almost 20% below that of the same month in 2018 and 2019. If the weak demand continues into 2024, cargo owners on the westbound trans-Atlantic should prepare for a significant round of blank sailings in the first quarter, mainly because carriers serving the US import corridor will simply have no other options. This session, featuring an industry analyst, freight forwarder, and shipper representative, will take a deep dive look at the trans-Atlantic, and what lies ahead in 2024.
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