Container prices surge in China and India as supply chain blockages tighten supply


The container shortages that have been adding to logistics logjams in Asia and beyond are showing few signs of being resolved, according to the latest data from Container xChange, the online platform for the leasing and trading of shipping containers.

In China, average prices for used twenty-foot containers increased 94% between November 2020 and March 2021. The surge from an average price of $1,299 per box in November last year to $2,521 in March indicates that container scarcity is continuing to worsen.

The latest Container Availability Index (CAx) data also reveals that equipment shortages are also now driving up container prices at major Indian ports. Between June 2020 and March 2021, average used 20 ft. container prices across the ports of Chennai, Mundra and Nhava Sheva rose from $1,106 to $1,755, an increase of 58%.

Dr Johannes Schlingmeier, CEO & Founder of the container leasing and trading platform Container xChange, commented: “The relentless pace of container shipping trade since the summer of 2020 is not easing and this is reflected in equipment shortages in Asia, and elsewhere. We expect markets will tighten even further in the coming weeks as the ripple effect of the Suez Canal closure at the end of March further disrupts container shipping services and equipment availability.”

Shanghai prices fall

Across the eight biggest ports in China, average prices for used 20 ft. containers climbed 38% from $1,251 in November 2020 to $1,733 in March 2021.

There are indications that equipment is being funnelled to China’s largest container hubs. At the port of Shanghai, the world’s largest box port by volume, the average used container price in January this year was $2,162 marking it as the most expensive port in China to procure a used box. By March, however, the average price of a used 20 ft. container at Shanghai had fallen to $1,686.

The port of Dalian is now the most expensive location in China to purchase a used 20 ft. container with prices in March averaging $2028. Equivalent prices at Qingdao and Tianjin were $1,850 and $1,800, respectively.

In India, Chennai was by far the most expensive port to buy used containers in March 2021 with an average price of $2,220 per 20 ft container. Average prices in March at Nhava Sheva were $1,667 per 20 ft container. Mundra was the cheapest location in India to procure a used box with an average price of $1,455.

New vs. used container prices

Such is the urgent demand for boxes in the current highly stressed ocean container market that the cost of procuring a used container has now increased far beyond what was previously considered a ‘normal’ price for a newbuild container.

“It always depends on the exact equipment type, but before shortages became critical a standard used container which was a few years old would cost around $1,000 in China, while a brand-new container would be about double the price,” said Schlingmeier.

“However, in the current market, used containers are selling at $2,300-$2,600 across China, while prices for brand-new containers at Shanghai, for example, have skyrocketed by 64% in 2021 to an average of $3,390.”

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