Holy-Cow Spikes in China-US Container Freight Rates & US Consumer Spending on Goods Trigger Mad, Possibly Illegal Scramble for Empties. US Farmers Twist in the Wind, by Wolf Richter

The Covid=19 economy has wreaked havoc on container shipping. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

US Federal Maritime Commission investigates container carriers’ “abandonment” of American agricultural industry. Weirdest Economy Ever.

The freight rates from Asia to the US West Coast and East Coast, and to Europe, have exploded since the stimulus economy kicked in, where consumers shifted spending from services – such as airline tickets, haircuts, and even rents under the eviction bans – to goods, powered by money from the stimulus and from refinancing their mortgages at lower rates.

The average spot rate that container carriers charge for shipping containers from Shanghai to the US East Coast shot to a new record of $4,874 per 20-foot-equivalent unit, or TEU, a standard measuring unit in the shipping industry. The average spot rate from Shanghai to the US West Coast, after hitting a record of $3,948 per TEU in the prior week, dipped a smidgen to $3,900 last week, according to the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI). For all 13 major global routes that the SCFI tracks, the overall index as of December 18 rose to a record reading of 2,412, up roughly 165% from a year ago.

These distortions have created a global chain reaction that includes a shortage of empty containers in the US that has hammered farmers that grow crops for exports, but have trouble finding enough containers to ship their crops. The resulting uproar has caused the US Federal Maritime Commission to investigate container carriers, amid allegations they are violating the US Shipping Act of 1984 (chart via Shanghai Shipping Exchange):

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