Asia and freight market update; March 2024

By Paul Kelly in News Posted: 14th, March, 2024

Many of the world’s top ocean freight stakeholders gathered in Long Beach, California earlier this month for the annual TPM conference, which this year takes place under the shadow of continued Red Sea disruptions. 

TPM commenced alongside news of more container ship strikes and the first seafarer fatalities, with former CIA chief, Robert Gates, speculating that the Houthis may keep up their attacks irrespective of events in Israel.


Overall the feedback from Long Beach is that the uncertainty caused by the Cape of Good Hope diversions is reduced and the work done by the carriers to make adjustments has helped the industry adjust to the new normal

But ocean freight is now entering its slow season and the expectation is that with ex-Asia rate increases exceeding most estimates of the additional costs faced by carriers, they may settle down from recent highs.

Drewry’s World Container Index decreased by 6% in the first week of March, while spot rates from Shanghai to Rotterdam decreased by 7%, Shanghai to New York dropped by 6% and Shanghai to Los Angeles reduced by 5%.

However, shippers that want to benefit from falling rates will need to move quickly because the lines are taking action to move the supply and demand factor back in their favour.

In an effort to constrain capacity and support rates, the lines are announcing blanking programs across the major East-West headhaul trades, with 50 cancelled sailings between week 11 and week 15. Out of a total of 650 scheduled sailings this represents an 8% cancellation rate.

During this period, 44% of the blank sailings will occur on the Asia-North Europe and Mediterranean routes, with 44% on the Transpacific Eastbound and 12% on the Transatlantic Westbound trade.


Globally, average airfreight spot rates are 15% below their levels this time last year, but surprisingly up on January.

The South Asia to Europe market led the growth in spot rates in February as the situation in the Red Sea caused air cargo demand to rise by 18% on January, with average spot rates increasing 34% month over month.

Ex-India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka spot rates experienced significant increases, rising by 81%, 40%, and 55% respectively in the first week of March, driven by strong demand for apparel products.

Average spot rates from China to Europe rose 11% month over month in February, but the Lunar New Year holidays contributed to a 9% decrease at the beginning of March.

Spot rates from China to the US were up 15% from January but weakened slightly as February drew to a close.

There is an increasing trend to keep away from the larger eCommerce hubs to avoid being caught up in any backlogs, or being passed over by carriers seeking higher yield cargoes.


The UK road freight industry is so far relatively unaffected by the escalating Houthi attacks, with oil supply keeping up with demand, despite disruptions to the supply chain. However, many operators will have begun contingency planning should the crisis severely impact the UK market, with potential for fuel shortages.

With budgets tight in a year with significant expenditure expected for haulage businesses, lower fuel prices would give hauliers extra breathing room, when profit margins are tight, so they will have been disappointed to see average diesel prices rise slightly in February, followed by a 2.3% increase in March.

With prices relatively low, road freight operators will be hoping to attract more business in the quieter months of the year, before prices are predicted to increase later on in 2024.

Whatever challenges your supply chain may face, our commercial vehicle fleet and the price and capacity agreements we have in place with our long-term partner air and ocean carriers mean that we continue to deliver resilient and reliable supply chain solutions.

Our purchase order management and supply chain tracking technology support the most demanding global trading regimes, providing transparency and control.

EMAIL Andy Costara to learn more and see how our technology can support your supply chain.

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