Ships follow the money
A major driver of congestion on both sides of the Pacific Ocean: Landside capacity (terminals, trucking, rail, warehousing) is limited, but the vessel capacity of a single ocean trade lane is highly flexible.
While the number of ships in the world is finite, operators can shift ships to wherever they make the most money. And the trans-Pacific is now a particularly lucrative trade: Spot rates including premiums can top $20,000 per forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU).
“These assets [ships] are super-mobile,” said Sundboell. “What’s happening now is the opposite of what dogged the industry for the past 20 years. Five years ago, people were asking: How can the trans-Pacific rate drop from $2,000 to $1,500 [per FEU] in the space of just six days? It was because you could take a vessel from one place and sail it someplace else, and suddenly there were more ships and a price war and rates dropped.
“Now we’re seeing the opposite,” he said. As ship operators pile more capacity into the trans-Pacific, congestion rises, delays mount, the incentive for shippers to pay premiums is supported, and all-in rates remain at record highs.
Pick your bottleneck: Ports, chassis, containers, labor
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Author: H. A. Goodman