Container ship charter rates are retreating as a wave of newly-built ships entering the market dulls ocean carriers' appetite for hired vessels.
Falling freight rates and lower ship utilization rates on key long haul routes also have prompted carriers to reassess their demand for additional tonnage in the coming months.
Ship charter rates rallied strongly from the beginning of the year even as freight rates were falling as carriers jostled to acquire extra capacity amid buoyant cargo volumes going into the peak shipping season.
By The Numbers:
Container Rate Benchmark
But the rally has gone into reverse as the major lines now have sufficient capacity on hand to meet higher cargo demand in the early summer.
The average daily earnings of a 4,250 20-foot-equivalent-unit gearless ship on a two year charter have slipped to $26,798 from $28,603 at the end of March, according to the Hamburg Shipbrokers' Association.
Smaller vessels have fared better, with a 2,500-TEU ship fetching on average $15,391, down from $15,971 two weeks ago, and a 1,100-TEU vessel has declined to $9,455 from $9,872 a month ago.
The HSA's ConTex index of time charter rates for six vessel sizes has fallen steadily from its mid-April high of 718 to 695 at present.
Charter rates, which were rising continuously from mid-December, faltered when low-cost carrier, The Containership Co., quit liner operations and put its six vessels on the charter market.
Earlier, Chilean carrier CSAV also re-let tonnage on the market after pulling an Asia-U.S. East Coast service.
Carriers are also being more selective about chartering in additional tonnage as surging fuel prices have sharply increased vessel operating costs.
Charter rates increasingly reflect the age and fuel consumption of ships with new tonnage commanding a premium over older, less efficient ships.
Lower charter and freight rates also are beginning to impact the price of new and second-hand ships, according to figures from London shipbroker Clarkson.
A 10-year old 3,500-TEU vessel is being quoted at $36.5 million, unchanged from the average 2010 price but well over double the $15.5 million average through the container shipping slump of 2009.
Shipyards are quoting $59.5 million for a new 4,800-TEU ship, broadly in line with quotes of $60.5 million in 2010 and $57.3 million in 2009 but well short of the $84 million price tag in 2008.
The charter market likely will retreat further in coming weeks after shipyards delivered an all-time monthly high of 226,000 TEUs in April, to be followed by 204,000 TEUs in May, according to Alphaliner, a container market analyst.
Ocean carriers and shipowners remain confident however, despite falling freight and charter rates and have placed orders for new ships worth over $7 billion in the first quarter of 2011.
This compares with contracts worth around $8.2 billion for the whole of 2010, according to Clarkson.
-- Contact Bruce Barnard at email@example.com.