Volume growth of 14.2 percent for North American West Coast ports in March 2022, when annualised over March 2019, is the strongest in almost a year.

"January 2022 volume growth was in line with January 2019, contracting marginally while it increased 6.8 percent in February, which is within the range of what we have seen for most of 2021," according to the latest analysis by Se-Intelligence.

Alan Murphy, CEO, Sea-Intelligence, says: "To be able to see these changes for North America West Coast ports in 2021-Q1, we need to visualise the changes without unduly distorting the picture due to the volatility in 2020-2021. As such, in Figure 1, we illustrate the growth rates using both a traditional Y/Y change, as well as the average annualised growth rate since 2019, which was the last normal year."

The spike in March 2022 is possibly a result of the backlog cleared after the port closure of Ningbo earlier in the year and the Chinese New Year that followed as well as the recent operational restrictions in Shanghai.

"While carriers continue to prioritise empty container exports out of North America West Coast, growing at a rate of around 20 percent for the past 18 months, in January-March 2022, laden exports contracted at a slower rate of 5-10 percent compared to 10-15 percent seen in the second half of 2021," the report said.

A possible explanation is that the port closure of Ningbo for 14 days at the start of 2022 resulted in a pile of empty containers in the port, containers that had been offloaded before the port closed and had since been emptied. It is possible that the carriers deemed that level of empties as sufficient for the time being and therefore cleared out some export cargo from the North America West Coast ports, the report added.

Blank sailings continue
Carriers have continued blank sailings over the last five weeks in response to lower demand on the three largest trade lanes out of the Far East bound for North Europe, North American East Coast and North American West Coast, according to the latest report from Xeneta.

Graphic Credit: Xeneta, Sea-Intelligence

Out of the three trade lanes, the Far East to US West Coast trade had the most blanked sailings both in absolute volume and as a share of offered capacity between April 4 and May 8, 2022. "63 sailings were blanked in the five-week period, removing a total of 517,300 TEU or 15 percent of the initial capacity offering."

This lane was also the only one where spot rates didn't fall over five weeks. Spot rates from the Far East to the US West Coast increased slightly (+ $30/FEU) to $9,250 /FEU on May 8," the report said.

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