Shipping orders signal a major drop in consumer demand

For the shipping industry to halve its carbon footprint by 2050, promising technology must become a reality, and efficiency gains must also increase.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

A significant decline for consumers is showing up in shipping, with logistics executives telling CNBC they̵[ads1]7;ve seen a 20% drop in sea freight orders for the months of September and October. The decline in demand cuts across many products, including machinery, housing, industry and some clothing. Logistics managers explain to CNBC the reason is a combination of too much inventory combined with a lack of clarity about consumer demand.

The shipping trend reflects recent comments from leaders in the logistics industry. Georgia Port Authority CEO Griff Lynch said he expects the number of waiting ships to drop in the next few weeks after seeing historic vessel calls.

In apparel and footwear, executives say there is no definitive trend, although inventory issues are becoming more prevalent. Nike’s overstocking problems announced last week in its earnings weighed on the stock.

“Inventory levels are high as consumerism moves on to off-price,” said Brett Rose, CEO of United National Consumer Suppliers. “Major brands are very aware of the current season and trends. A Bloomingdale’s consumer doesn’t want last season’s shoes or handbags. Those items will be attractive to consumers of retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross Stores,” he said.

Shipping orders signal a major drop in consumer demand

Seko Logistics tells CNBC that orders for high-end items such as smart package cabinets, integrated server racks, ultrasonic machines and time-sensitive cargo such as retail displays remain strong.

DHL Ocean Freight tells CNBC it currently sees no indication of a 20% drop in orders. But with no rush expected in the build-up to Chinese national day Golden Week, it expects demand to be flat in October. The ongoing threat of industrial action among rail and port workers in some geographies, port congestion in Europe and weather-related route disruptions are likely to lead to more canceled sailings and port omissions, partially offsetting some of the rate declines from Asia Pacific.

Sea rates drop, ships are cancelled

To put a floor on prices, ocean liners are doing what are called tactical canceled sailings, so they can match vessel space with orders, which they hope will stop the price decline. In a note to clients, HSL Logistics said vessel cuts were at almost 50% and the drawdown in vessel capacity could continue into 2023 until demand picks up before Chinese New Year, which is in late January.

It will take time before the capacity cut stops the shipping rate. According to Freightos, Asia-US West Coast prices (FBX01 Daily) fell 8% to $2,978/40 equivalent units (FEU). That is 82 percent lower than at the same time last year. Freight rates for the Asia-US East Coast route (FBX03 Daily) fell 5% to $6,952/FEU, and are 63% lower than rates for this week last year.

Other data points that signal a decline in orders are the outgoing offer rejections.

The higher percentage of rejections indicates tighter capacity; the lower percentage shows looser capacity. “Right now we’re tracking 2019 levels and are down 80% from where we were a year ago. Looking at spot prices excluding fuel surcharges, we’re currently 31% below where we were last year,” said Kevin Hill, head of community and research for FreightWaves.

The CNBC Supply Chain Heat Map shows that vessel congestion on the East Coast continues, and the impact of Hurricane Ian will delay the clearing of vessel congestion, according to MarineTraffic.

During the Sept. 12-18 period, the Port of Savannah reached its highest number of weekly average days waiting at anchor since April 2022, according to Alex Charvalias, in-transit visibility supply chain at MarineTraffic. “Due to Hurricane Ian, zero vessel calls have been recorded at the Port of Savannah since September 29. There is no doubt that this new disruption from Ian will further add to the existing congestion.”

CNBC Supply Chain Heat Monep data providers are artificial intelligence and predictive analytics company Everstream Analytics; global freight booking platform Freightos, creator of the Freightos Baltic Dry Index; logistics supplier Olympics USA; supply chain intelligence platform FreightWaves; supply chain platform Blume Global; third party logistics provider Orient Star Group; marine research firm MarineTraffic; maritime visibility data company Project44; sea ‚Äč‚Äčtransport data company MDS Transmodal UK; platform for benchmarking for sea and air freight and market analysis Xeneta; leading provider of research and analysis Sea-Intelligence ApS; Crane Worldwide Logistics; and air, DHL Global Forwarding; freight logistics provider Seko Logistics; and the planet, supplier of global, daily satellite images and geospatial solutions.

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