All other things being equal, container spot rates should reflect trade balances between seafaring trade partners. Consumer spending should feed demand for imported goods and drive shipping rates up. With the American consumer flat on his back, you’d expect demand for finished goods from Asia to slacken. The problem is that the Drewry Trans-Pacific spot rate for containers went up 6% this week. How much of that is due to increased costs isn’t clear, but it would be fruitful to examine whether commodity inflation (esp. in energy prices) is now showing up in transportation costs.
The index only captures a small minority of the Pacific’s traffic, but signs abound that other shippers need to cover increased costs. Carriers are hiking their rates all across Far East lines. Hanjin explicitly states that it must hike rates to cover increasing costs. Things could get ugly for American consumers over the summer if retailers have to eat these costs.
Nota bene: No positions in any companies referenced in this post.