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The year of 2020 proved to be one of the most volatile in history for maritime trade, with the reefer market being no exception and the large fluctuations, record highs as well as struggles persisting through 2021. Worldwide reefer trade continues to grow however, and against a backdrop of container shortages, port congestion and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the conventional and containerised segments have both experienced a series of highs and lows.

Since the beginning of 2021, the world maritime freight markets have been a volatile place. Across the various cargoes and vessel types there have been significant diversions from both historical precedents and between the sectors. The container shipping market is a prime example with carriers now awash with cash after stellar results on the back of record freight earnings whilst owners have benefited from staggeringly high charter rates. Elsewhere, the tanker market has been in the doldrums for most of the year with some benchmark freight rate assessments falling into negative territory earlier in the year.

The refrigerated cargo market has not escaped this volatility and market dynamics appear to have played into the hands of the conventional sector, at least for the time being. As of the time of writing, earnings across the conventional reefer segment are well up on year-ago levels, whilst cargo demand and enquiry has picked up as a result of disruption throughout the containerised segment following port and terminal congestion and the ongoing imbalances in trade flows leaving a significant number of containers stranded in unsuitable places.

As a result of the continued tightness in the availability of reefer containers, it is expected that shippers will continue to have to pay a premium for the refrigerated boxes through part of 2022. With refrigerated trade volumes continuing to show strength towards the close of 2021, most in the market believe that 2022 will present a similar story. Ongoing congestion, the disruption to usual trade flows, especially empty containers and strong demand remain the key drivers of the market. The high charges for reefer boxes could spell good news for the conventional reefer operators as they provide a handy alternative, especially if volumes are high enough. Through 20201, conventional operators have seen an uptick in demand from cargoes usually transported in containers, although this is likely to remain a short-term phenomenon and not mark a reversal of the trend seen over the past years. Stronger demand pushing up conventional reefer rates will likely to be impacted by higher fuel prices going forward, however.

However, the shortages in the supply of containers is not just driving up the cost for both shippers and consumers but has also impacted the amount of cargo that has perished whilst awaiting transport. With carriers seemingly keen to carry general cargo in unplugged reefers, increasing equipment shortages, many shippers have been unable to get their product to the market in time as well as the issue of perishability whilst vessels and container are remaining at anchorage or in the yard.

The boost to the conventional reefer segment coming from the tightness in the container shipping market and the shortage of refrigerated containers continued into September and through October, providing some relief for owners of the embattled sector, which has seen a declining market share for a significant chunk of the past decade. Heading into the peak season, namely the summer months in Southern Hemisphere, optimism is far higher than usual. The short-term boost is welcome, although it is unlikely to result in a fundamental change in the dynamics of the reefer sector as container carriers are already seeking to rectify the situation with bulk reefer container orders and more and bigger vessels which will cause cascading onto the North-South trades.

The tightening of tonnage and cargo availability, combined with the ongoing issues in the containerised sector has led to a spike in earnings for both the small and large segments when compared to the previous year, albeit down slightly on the previous month. Rates are expected to continue to rise in the short-term as many operators enter into their peak season, resulting in a light earnings holiday for the conventional operators although this is unlikely to translate into any structural strengthening in the market in the long term.

At the end of October, reefer time charter equivalent assessments continue to be well above year-ago levels, with the small segment currently trading at USD 1.05 per cft. up from USD 0.35 per cft. in October 2020. Similarly, the large segment of over 500,000 cft. is currently trading at USD 0.9 per cft., up from USD 0.3 per cft at this point in 2020 according to Reefertrends. The tightness in the containerised segment combined with the ongoing levels of strong demand for refrigerated produce is helping to keep the conventional reefer market relatively bullish alongside very limited fleet growth.

With the reefer market undergoing a significant change in 2021, although not expected to result in a longer-term shift in the market’s fundamentals, it is the perfect time to order Dynamar’s latest publication: the Dynamar 2021 Reefer Analysis.

Dynamar’s Reefer Analysis applies the most recent trade statistics on reefer commodities, supplemented with up-to-date port, vessel, box and carrier fleet statistics. It delivers a profound insight into the background, characteristics, goings and present status of the worldwide perishables shipping market and its most relevant players. It is a must read for anyone involved in cold logistics.

  • Historical and technological developments in reefer shipping
  • Worldwide perishables trades by year, area and by country
  • Seaborne trade flows, conventional, containers and related port infrastructure
  • Conventional reefer and container ship fleet development and forecasts up to 2031
  • Top 15 conventional reefer ship operator profiles
  • North/South Reefer heavy container trades, per carrier and overall
  • Top 10 reefer container operators

 

Dynamar will soon be issuing its latest issue and 2021 edition of its annual Dynamar REEFER Analysis: Market Structures, Conventional, Containers. As usual, it contains a wealth of information on both the conventional and containerised reefer trades. Order your copy at info@dynamar.com or go to Dynamar (2020) REEFER Analysis – Market Structures, Conventional, Containers for more information.

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