Is the global recovery at risk due to the shortage of containers?

2nd March 2021
-News, IAM

Hugues Chevalier, Economist

For several weeks now, the global activity recovery, and in particular exports, is generating a bottleneck in the maritime transport sector. Indeed, after two years of decline in exports, the rebound in international trade, especially between Asia and Europe, has caused an explosion of the prices of maritime containers transport, from around USD 2,000 at the start of the pandemic to nearly 10,000 USD these last weeks. This price sharp increase is due to the scarcity of these containers in the world, yet around 24 million of units. In addition, at the same time, other factors such as the reorganization of value chains or the strengthening of sanitary restrictions are causing delivery times to be extended. But how did we reach that point? Since the first lockdown, consumers have been purchasing household goods produced mainly in Asia, particularly through e-commerce. On top of this, the rebound in international trade is coming after the maritime transport sector had limited its capacity by 30% to avoid a collapse in prices. If that capacity does not rapidly increase (already up 10% in Q1 2021), European corporates depending on Asian imports could lose up to 7 points of margin according to a recent study published by the credit insurer Euler Hermes. Moreover, companies will inevitably pass these costs increases on to selling prices and trigger even more inflation which is already abnormally high due to a base effect of energy prices. Real disposable household incomes could be penalised, which European economies really do not need now.