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Empty containers trapped in America check holiday season capacity

Dificultades para mover carga terrestre tiene entrampada la cadena de suministro.


Christmas is three months away. Wish lists begin to transform into shopping lists and virtual shopping carts filled with products that start their journey in a container until they reach the consumer’s door. Most of those shopping carts start their adventure from China to end up at the gateway of a happy western buyer. But what if there are no containers for that cargo? That is the current dilemma faced by carriers and container owners in the United States, who are facing difficulties in returning empty boxes to China, from where they would return to American shores full of Christmas gifts.

This is revealed by the most recent publication of the monthly container logistics report of Container xChange, which highlights the effects of a port congestion that has spread beyond contingency, Managing to create a new disruptive scenario for the busiest retail season. «What’s happening in the United States is that there is already congestion, every year, because it is the peak season and everyone is looking to ensure that retailers have enough inventory in their warehouses for the year-end season. West Coast labor negotiations were one of the main causes why freight forwarders redirected their cargo to the east coast, resulting in a new area of high congestion. In addition, there are terrestrial complications with an acute shortage of truck drivers and railway delays that hinder the movement of containers in the high season,» reads the report.


The pendulum has been positioned at the other end. While there was a shortage of containers a few months ago, there is now overcapacity and demand is shrinking. However, despite lower demand, the available containers are unattainable. «Empty containers are piling up in storage centers in the United States and as many trapped at sea that cannot be unloaded due to delays caused by congestion in ports,» the analysis explains.

This imbalance in the accessibility of available capacity has affected the prices of feasible containers for cargo, both on the west coast and on the east coast of the United States, seeing an increase of US$200 from July to August, Placing the container price at US$2,214 by the eighth month of the year. Certainly, a phenomenon that contradicts the global situation that has seen a sustained fall in the price of containers.

Dangerous index

A ‘healthy’ index shows a balance between incoming and outgoing containers, i.e., 0.50. The higher the container availability rate, the more containers are entering than leaving. That is why the Container Availability Index (CAx) of the set of US ports, including Houston, Oakland, New York, Savannah, Long Beach, and Los Angeles with scores above 0,80, is clear evidence of the effect of persistent congestion that does not let out trapped capacity.

The challenge is to unlock the capacity before the start of the high season, which coincides with winter in the northern hemisphere, a time that could be further affected by port closures in China by coronavirus regrowth. It’s a tough winter without containers.




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