Will coronavirus hit to Chinese box export rates be capped?

container ship

Coronavirus fallout is beginning to show up in freight rates for outbound containerized cargoes from China.

The price to ship a forty-foot-equivalent unit (FEU) container on various trade lanes is tracked by the Freightos Baltic Daily Index. The price to ship from China to the North American West Coast (SONAR: FBXD.CNAW) is down 7.9% over the past week, the price from China to the U.S. East Coast (SONAR: FBXD.CNAE) is down 7.4%, and the price from China to North Europe (SONAR: FBXD.CNER) has declined 6%.

All three of these primary Chinese container export lanes saw rates fall in unison over the past weekend, although these price declines are still only moderate in nature.

freight index chart

According to Eytan Buchman, chief marketing officer of Freightos, “The effects of the coronavirus outbreak continued to reverberate across the global supply chain this week, as China took its first but slow steps back to work and uncertainty persists throughout the industry.

“Freight rates across lanes fell moderately as demand remains minimal,” he continued, while pointing out that “a further discounting of rates may be unlikely as dropping prices can’t attract shipments that simply aren’t there – the ships that did sail this week reported up to 90% unused capacity.”

Chart credit: Freightos

On a more positive note, Buchman reported that “the partial resumption of work and beginnings of production are generating some initial signs of hope. Freightos.com’s marketplace data saw a 2% uptick in China’s share of searches for freight bookings out of Southeast Asia for the first time since the outbreak, indicating that some shippers have or are anticipating orders that will be ready soon.

“But aside from areas still officially shut down, the resumption of work has remained slow even in the cities and provinces that are back from the extended holiday,” he acknowledged. “Only about 10-20% of factories have received permits to reopen so far and though transportation within most provinces is back to normal, travel between provinces is still limited, which will also add to the slow recovery.”