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Container shipping spot rates just spiked yet again

Updated with latest rates: Asia-West Coast spot pricing now 3.5 times higher than a year ago

COSCO container ship arriving in Oakland (Photo: Flickr/Darren Marshall)

The headlines last August and September blared: “Trans-Pacific rates are going crazy.” “Rates are on fire.” “Records shattered.” Oh, what cargo shippers would give to pay the rates they paid eight or nine months ago. Those earlier records were repeatedly shattered. It just happened yet again.

“Non-stop demand of ocean freight and the resulting delays and equipment shortages pushed spot rates to new heights across all major trade lanes,” said Judah Levin, the research lead at Freightos.

And spot-rate moves don’t tell the whole story. Many shippers are paying up to $3,000-$5,000 more per box in premiums on top of base rates just to get their cargo loaded, according to Nerijus Poskus, vice president of global freight at Flexport.

Fixed annual contracts priced 50%-100% higher than last year’s will partially shield importers from the latest spot-rate rise. But with many shippers still heavily exposed to the spot market as the traditional peak season nears, the stage is set for the dramatically higher transport costs to be passed along to consumers, to the extent possible, in the form of inflation.

Trans-Pacific rates still rising

As of Monday, the Freightos Baltic Daily Index assessed Asia-West Coast spot rates (SONAR: FBXD.CNAW) at $5,835 per forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU). That’s an all-time high, up 19% from the beginning of this month and up around 80% from rates back in August and September when pricing began to garner headlines. Rates are now 3.5 times higher than in mid-May 2020, up almost 250% year-on-year (y/y).

(Chart: FreightWaves SONAR. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.)

On the longer route from Asia to the East Coast via the Panama Canal (SONAR: FBXD.CNAE), Freightos assessed Monday’s spot rate at $7,891 per FEU, up 203% y/y, also an all-time high.

Add on extra charges and it looks like paying $10,000 per FEU is not unusual for Asia-East Coast spot cargoes.

Trans-Atlantic: Sleepy no more

The westbound trans-Atlantic route was one trade lane that had seemed to escape massive rate inflation. That ended in April, shortly after the Ever Given accident in the Suez Canal. It is no longer the sleepy trade it once was.

Last month’s surge was just the beginning. Rates have kept climbing. As of Monday, Freightos put the Europe-East Coast spot rate (SONAR: FBXD.ENAE) at $4,257 per FEU, up 139% y/y.

Asia-Europe: Most extreme increases

Many larger U.S. shippers have global operations and send significant volumes from Asia to Europe. However extreme the rate rises to the U.S., they pale in comparison to what’s going on in Europe. Rates there have climbed significantly from already very high levels since the Ever Given accident, which heavily impacted these cargo flows.

According to Frieghtos, the Asia-North Europe rate (SONAR: FBXD.CNER) on Monday was $8,565 per FEU, up 480% y/y or 5.8 times rates in mid-May 2020. Of all the mainline trades, rates in Asia-North Europe have risen the most.

Asia-Mediterranean rates (SONAR: FBXD.CMED) were $9,187 per FEU, 4.6 times higher than this time last year, a  365% y/y increase.

In general, freight cost increases are not only more painful in Europe than in the U.S. because they’ve risen faster, but because Europe — unlike the U.S. — is in the midst of a recession.

Click for more articles by Greg Miller 


  1. Bill Diparlo

    There is something very bad coming, and it is coming soon. The reality of all this insanity is going to have a day of reckoning.

  2. Franc Jezh

    “In general, freight cost increases are not only more painful in Europe than in the U.S. because they’ve risen faster, but because Europe — unlike the U.S. — is in the midst of a recession.”
    ARE YOU SERIOUS ?!?!?!?!? REALLY? The only thing that is not in recession in US of A is FED’s print shop! They’re printing money at such a rate that keep national production high. DOH!

  3. Stephen Webster

    Last spring a number of shipping companies and small transport companies had to close. We need to better protect those small businesses.

Comments are closed.

Greg Miller

Greg Miller covers maritime for FreightWaves and American Shipper. After graduating Cornell University, he fled upstate New York's harsh winters for the island of St. Thomas, where he rose to editor-in-chief of the Virgin Islands Business Journal. In the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn, he moved to New York City, where he served as senior editor of Cruise Industry News. He then spent 15 years at the shipping magazine Fairplay in various senior roles, including managing editor. He currently resides in Manhattan with his wife and two Shih Tzus.