The escalating volumes and rates in the ocean market have created both the need and the opportunity to learn more about this mode.
Whether or not congestion abates and rates decrease, it’s likely that part of the impact of the pandemic will be long term. In an interview with Peter Tirschwell, VP of Maritime & Trade for IHS Markit, he pointed out that “The pandemic is creating its own spinoff events now. And every time that happens, the limited supply of assets that facilitate international supply chains slows down essentially.” Eventually he expects to see an easing, but not a return to pre-pandemic norms.
The ocean market used to be something that transportation departments didn’t need to know much about. As Peter pointed out in an earlier interview, for decades the low costs in this market made it an afterthought, but now companies ”have to come up to speed at a more senior level” to manage this area of their supply chain well.
To help you develop a better understanding of one aspect of this market, here’s an overview of common ocean indexes and port data to consider tracking.
OCEAN RATE INDEXES
When it comes to pricing, there are a number of indexes to track. Recently the Wall Street Journal and other sources have commented on how the gap is widening between ocean container rate indexes, with the highest rates sometimes appearing to be three or more times the amount of the lowest rates.
Although these rates are becoming increasingly divergent, it’s been highlighted that the indexes differ in how they take into account different surcharges and other factors, so it’s not a matter of right versus wrong so much as finding an index that provides a good comparison for your business.
Additionally, an excellent article from FreightWaves about the diverging rates explained that one key factor accounting for the differences is that indexes differ in their data sources. For each index, there are different combinations of data that may include carriers, shippers, freight forwarders, and others.
Typically the indexes compared and cited are:
- Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI)
- Drewry’s World Container Index (WCI)
- Freightos Baltic Index (FBX)
- Xeneta Shipping Index (XSI)
- S&P Global Platts
Here’s more on those indices.
Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI)
The often cited Shanghai Containerized Freight Index provides a very general benchmark that represents the spot rate to ship an “average” container from Shanghai to one of thirteen different ports. The index shows the weight that was given to each individual port in determining the average, but does not break out any special characteristics of a shipment or how a company’s volume impacts pricing. According to their website, “The freight rate of individual routes of SCFI is the average all-in price which considers the spot ocean freights and related seaborne surcharges.” The rates in this index come from a combination of carriers, forwarders and shippers.
Similarly, the China Containerized Freight Index tracks the cost to move a container from any China port to one of twelve destinations and provides the average price for each destination such as Japan or Europe.
Drewry’s World Container Index (WCI)
Drewry is an independent maritime research consultancy was established in London in 1970. Their Drewry World Container Index tracks 40-foot ocean container spot rates on a weekly basis for eight major routes as well as a composite. They also produce a report that tracks IMO 2020 and global Port Throughput Indices that track 220 ports. The data source for this index comes from rates paid by freight forwarders to carriers and does not include premium surcharges.
Freightos Baltic Daily Index (FBDX)
The Freightos Baltic Daily Index tracks the prices of 40-foot containers on a daily basis. This index captures 12 maritime lanes and, as reported by FreightWaves, made the following change to their index in late July 2021: “the Freightos Baltic Daily Index adjusted its methodology for tracking ocean shipping rates to include for the first time premium surcharges required for bookings, substantially raising transparency into the real cost paid by cargo owners.” The rates reported by the FBDX, which are often the highest, use spot rates offered by carriers to freight forwarders.
[image: Freigtos chart with credit line]
Xeneta Shipping Index (XSI)
Oslo-based Xenata launched their short-term Xeneta Shipping Index in April 2021, and previously launched a long term contract segment in 2018. These indices track average rates for 40-foot containers on a daily basis, noting that rates have a 2-day lag. They have an impressive list of clients which currently include General Mills, Unilever and Puma. According to AJOT, their shipping data “represents over USD 15 billion of annual ocean freight spend”. Although this index is often among the lowest, their reported rates do include premium surcharges and does not include data from carrier, relying instead on information from shippers and freight forwarders.
The S&P Global Platts Shipping Services is another option for tracking prices and trends for ocean containers, along with other analytics. A video on their website shares that, “For decades, S&P Global Platts has been providing freight rates for key trading routes in alignment with our daily price assessments for multiple commodities. […] Our freight rate methodology provides independent daily prices in the units of measure relevant to the varied positions of our customers.” Within the same video there is mention that their data includes:
- 120 Bulk Voyage Charter Routes
- 30 Dry Bulk Dual Fuel Time Charter Equivalents
- 99+ LNG Routes
Similar to the SCFI, their rates come from a combination of carriers, shippers, freight forwarders, and others. Their index does not include premium surcharges.
When it comes to measuring port volumes and trends, here are a few resources that can help.
U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics
This report provides a snapshot of the trends in 20-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) handled by the Top 10 U.S. Container Ports. It shows which are growing or shrinking over time as well as the overall volume trend.
[image: report with credit line]
American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA)
This Washington D.C. based organization collects port industry statistics in addition to holding events and advocating for more than 130 ports in North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
The Container Port Performance Index
In May 2021, the Maritime & Trade Division of IHS Markit in conjunction with the World Bank launched a new report called “The Container Port Performance Index” to track the efficiencies at ports around the world. The first report covers data going back to 2017 and captures activity at 351 ports, which is about half of the total number of container ports that exist today. With many shippers looking to make changes in their supply chain, this could provide a better idea of which ports to rely upon.
If you have any additional resources to share, please comment below.