Wednesday, December 23, 2020

"Freight Boom Fires Buffett Trains, Maersk Ships and Oil Prices"

From Bloomberg via gCaptain, December 23:

A great global restock is at hand, filling ships, trucks and trains, and also firing oil demand.

During the depths of China’s coronavirus crisis at the start of the year, shipping behemoth A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S reported an unprecedented number of canceled sailings as the Asian country all but shut itself off from the world. Since then, the company’s shares have surged to the brink of a record in Copenhagen. In the U.S., BNSF Railway Co., the freight giant owned by Warren Buffett, is riding a boom that’s pushed the number of carloads and containers it hauls up year-on-year in recent weeks.

A shift in consumer behavior, particularly in western countries, has driven oil prices above $50 a barrel in the past few weeks. People have been diverting expenditure previously earmarked for now-unattainable things — like holidays and meals in restaurants — toward purchasing physical goods. And that’s only the start of it: stores, warehouses and industries have undertaken a huge inventory restocking phase. As more boxloads of stuff get moved across the planet, so demand for fuel to power ships, trucks and freight trains has soared.

“This is the perfect storm for global container flows,” said Lars Mikael Jensen, head of network at Maersk, which marshals a fleet of almost 700 ships. “The current restocking in the U.S. and Europe raises demand, whilst global measures to contain the pandemic cause severe strain across the supply chain from lack of vessels, containers and trucking capacity.”

While beneficial to oil prices and freight haulers, the boom is straining important transport infrastructure. Bottlenecks are worsening at ports around the world, contorting supply chains for everything from car parts to cosmetics. The recent closing of freight deliveries from France into the U.K. serves as a reminder that things could become even more snarled — but also that the full economic and trade impacts of the coronavirus remain far from certain.

Los Angeles is emblematic of the turnaround in activity. Together with Long Beach, L.A. is a corridor for the import of goods from Asia into the U.S. Earlier this year, thousands of empty containers were sitting at the dock in Los Angeles, a symptom of both trade tensions with China, and Covid. Today, imported goods are now flooding in.

“Right now, what we are grappling with is a change in buying habits,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. “Where we were once buying mainly services, now you and I have turned back to buying products and those warehouses need to be restocked. Folks have been ordering so much for delivery, we can’t process it fast enough.”

Exports from China are surging, pushing the country’s trade surplus to a record. The nation’s companies shipped $268 billion of goods in November, a 21% increase year-on-year. 

In India, the lifting of lockdown restrictions and a full resumption of intra-state vehicle movement led to a boost in road transport fuel consumption in October, with diesel demand growing more than 7% year-on-year, according to Senthil Kumaran, head of South Asia oil at industry consultant FGE.

Shipping rates are going crazy. Moving a 40-foot steel box by sea from Shanghai to the European trade hub of Rotterdam costs about $6,500 per container, the most for the time of year since at least 2011, according to data from Drewry....