Carriers unveil blanking programmes to prop up rates as peak season sags

By Alex Whiteman 31/08/2022

Some 8.8% of capacity is due to be pulled from the Asia to Europe market by ocean carriers over the next 12 weeks.

CMA CGM has announced it will blank five sailings in the period surrounding China’s Golden Week, removing close to 100,000 teu from the Asia to Europe trades.

The carrier’s French Asia Line (FAL) services 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8 have been pulled for the seven-day national holiday running from 1-7 October.

It gave no reason for the move, but one source told The Loadstar: “It could echo the fears about a general decline some clients are nervously anticipating in Q4. We are trying to connect the dots to determine the factors behind the decision.

“However, we tend to be very cautious in making these assessments and will wait to see how other stakeholders react or move.”

While the source added that the blankings “don’t necessarily foretell doom and gloom”, it appears the decision from CMA CGM has not been made in isolation.

According to documents seen by The Loadstar, the 2M Alliance of Maersk and MSC will pull 10% of its capacity on the trade between now and the Chinese holiday, blanking seven sailings, while THE Alliance pulls 18%, blanking 10.

Commentators have suggested that the failure of a peak season to materialise in the build-up to Golden Week has likely driven the lines to reduce capacity as they look for ways to maintain rates that have recently “collapsed”, particularly on Asia-Europe routes.

The Loadstar’s shipping correspondent and former broker, Mike Wackett, commented: “There has been no peak season this year and the demand outlook is very poor going into the fourth quarter. I think the carriers will adopt the same radical approach as they did at the start of the pandemic, and take out a huge amount of capacity to protect and, as it proved then, boost their rates.”

Meanwhile, others have pointed to the growing list of problems and changes in the operating environment influencing carrier decisions to blank sailings.

DHL Global Forwarding’s ocean freight head for the Americas, Goetz Alebrand, pointed to strikes, bottlenecks and equipment shortages as influencing factors, and added: “There are still a lot of unknowns, given a possible global recession, and supply chain bottlenecks are apparent around the world.

“Our DHL Ocean Freight Update also highlights that the equipment (container) situation also remains tight, especially for 40ft containers.”