* Containers are in short supply, say charterers
* Container shipping index up 40 percent in 2017
* Bounce in East Asia trade drives container demand
* Hanjin bankruptcy, capacity cutbacks further tighten
By Henning Gloystein
SINGAPORE, April 3 Prices for shipping
containers, the metal boxes that carry 90 percent of the world's
manufactured goods, have risen to their highest since October
2015, a clear indicator that seaborne trade is increasing and
should grow further this year.
The Harpex Shipping Index CHT-IDX-HARPX, which tracks
weekly shipping container rates, has climbed 40 percent this
year to 439 points. Container charterers say that lead times to
order container have risen, to over a month in some cases, as
not enough are available to meet demand.
The tight market for the standardized boxes is a result of
carriers cutting overcapacity and follows some bankruptcies. But
the gains also point to a recovery in global trading after years
of lacklustre growth.
"The market seems tight... (and) we are urging liners to
release more box," said Willy Lin, chairman of the Hong Kong
Shippers' Council, which represents manufacturers and cargo
Sector-specific factors like the scrapping of excess ships
and the bankruptcy of South Korea's Hanjin Shipping have pushed
up the index. But, shippers also say that increasing
international trade has added to the container
Rene Pedersen, Asia/Pacific representative in Singapore for
AP Moeller-Maersk, the world's biggest container
shipper, said his company expected global container demand this
year will rise between 2 percent to 4 percent, compared with
just 1.5 percent to 2 percent growth in 2016.
RISING ASIAN TRADE
The container shortage is happening as manufacturing across
Asia's big three biggest economies - China, Japan and India -
grew unexpectedly fast in the first quarter, adding to evidence
that the world's biggest economic region is gaining
"China's export box transport market is recovering," the
Shanghai Shipping Exchange said in its most recent report,
adding that growth in the United States' economy was resulting
in "a firm recovery in the North America route (from China)."
The average export volumes from East Asia, including Japan,
South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, in February were more than 5
percent higher than a year ago, Capital Economics said in a
March 27 report, citing various sources.
"Economies in Europe and the U.S are (also) picking up,"
Maersk's Pedersen said.
Despite the jump in container rates this year, the Harpex
Index remains relatively weak at a third below its last peak in
2015 and 76 percent under its 2005 record.
Maersk's Pedersen said that "the container industry is not
out of the woods yet" but that "increased consolidation
activity... could lead to a more sustainable industry in 2017."
(Additional reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Christian