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Container prices and availability at Asian ports hit by COVID-19 lockdowns

  • The temporary lockdown of the port of Yantian in the second quarter is still negatively affecting container prices and availability in southern China.
  • Early indicators from Container xChange’s Container Availability Index (CAx) suggest similar trends will emerge in Vietnam and central China after more recent port closures and productivity declines.

COVID-19 outbreaks at ports in China and Vietnam will likely reduce container availability and drive-up prices at key shipping hubs in the coming weeks, according to the latest data analysis by Container xChange, the world’s leading online platform for the leasing and trading of shipping containers.

Terminal productivity declines at Yantian and nearby terminals in southern China due to COVID lockdowns in the second quarter of 2021 are still causing disruptive ripples up and down container supply chains including reduced box availability and soaring prices.

Container xChange analysis indicates that similar trends are likely to occur due to more recent COVID lockdowns in Vietnam and Ningbo in China.

“We saw a real and measurable spike in container prices and a major drop in container availability as measured by our Container Availability Index (CAx) when terminals at Yantian saw operations disrupted through most of June,” said Christian Roeloffs, co-founder of Container xChange. “Early indicators suggest we are likely to see the same impact in Vietnam and at Ningbo.”

According to the CAx, average container prices (defined as the average price of the transactions on the Container xChange platform covering all container sizes including 20 ft. and 40 ft. dry containers) at the port of Yantian increased from $5,515 in June to $15,336 this month.

This compared to much smaller container price increases at the ports of Shanghai and Qingdao over the same period. Average container prices at Shanghai increased from $4,468 to $5,570, for example, while at Qingdao they increased from $4,793 to $5,203.

A similar negative trend for those seeking boxes was apparent at Yantian as availability declined significantly. In Container xChange’s Container Availability Index (CAx) an index reading of below 0.5 means more containers leave a port compared to the number which enter. Above 0.5 means more containers are entering the port.

At Yantian, the CAx reading for a 40 ft dry container was 0.61 in Week 17 but fell to 0.47 in Week 22 and 0.3 in week 32. CAx readings for 20 ft. dry containers revealed a similar trend, dropping from 0.61 in week 17 to 0.47 in week 22 and just 0.4 in week 33.

There is good reason to expect some of the patterns evident at Yantian will emerge at other Asian shipping hubs in the weeks ahead.

COVID outbreaks that have been disrupting supply chains and port productivity in Vietnam since last month have prompted average container prices at Ho Chi Minh City to jump from $2,872 in May to $4,875 in August.

August has seen the short notice closure of terminals at Meishan Island, part of the Ningbo-Zhoushan port complex. The port handled almost 1.2 billion tons of cargo and almost 29 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) last year making it the third largest container hub in the world by volume after Shanghai and Singapore, so any disruptions to services calling there will have significant knock-on impacts.

Early indicators suggest that the temporary closure of Meishan Island terminals is already causing a small spike in container prices with average August prices climbing to $5,731, up from $5420 in June, making boxes at the port more expensive than at both Qingdao and Shanghai (but of course not at Yantian).

“Whether we see a further spike in container prices at Ningbo will probably be determined by how much cargo was disrupted at the port and whether we see additional shutdowns later this month,” said Dr Johannes Schlingmeier, CEO & Founder of Container xChange.

“Even if there are no additional closures it is likely that container prices will rise on lower availability in the coming weeks due to the lag between liner schedule disruption and container availability and pricing.”