Container freight rates from Asia continued to surge this week, reaching highs far in excess of long-term sustainable levels.

Today’s Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) cumulative reading hit a new record of 2,311.71, representing a 162% increase on the same week last year.

After initially lagging behind the massive rate gains seen on the transpacific, spot rates to North Europe now lead the rate race in terms of percentage increase, 230% higher than a year ago.

The North Europe component of the SCFI jumped 24% on the week, to $2,948 per teu, while spot rates to Mediterranean ports put on 29% to breach the $3,000 mark, at $3,073 per teu.

However, reports to The Loadstar this week imply that actual rates paid by shippers to secure containers and the last remaining slots to Europe are significantly higher.

Lars Jensen of SeaIntelligence said anecdotal evidence suggested the exact rates shippers were paying on the Asia-North Europe tradelane could be up to $5,000 per teu.

“In this context, it should be noted that the market is at a point where the SCFI is, in some cases, significantly underestimating the actual rates paid, as there are additional fees related to equipment and space availability,” explained Mr Jensen.

One UK forwarder confirmed this week that rate quotes had hit the $10,000 per 40ft high-cube on Asia-North Europe.

“It’s gone mad,” he said.

Moreover, the actual rates could be irrelevant if other carriers follow the lead of CMA CGM. The French carrier has advised its Asia-North Europe customers of a “booking freeze” for weeks 49, 50 and 51, “due to the strong demand for containers from Asia and the backlog in recent weeks”.

And another carrier has told Asia-North Europe customers this week it was looking to implement a $1,000 per teu fee if a shipment is cancelled within two weeks of the loading date.

Meanwhile, after several weeks of stable (but high) rates on the transpacific, the SCFI recorded an increase of $104 for spot rates to the US east coast, to $4,804 per 40ft, representing a 91% hike on the same week of last year, while rates to the west coast were flat this week, at $3,984 per 40 ft, which is, nonetheless, a vast 188% increase on the SCFI reading of a year ago.

And there appears no easing in the surge of cargo heading for the US west coast, with the port of Los Angeles’ Signal volume forecaster expecting 48% and 44%, respectively, more containers on ships in the next two weeks.

The pressure on the LA and Long Beach terminals from the enormous leap in throughput is intense – the Signal prediction for total Q4 volume at Los Angeles is up 40% year on year to over 850,000 teu – and vessels are waiting up to six days at anchor in the San Pedro Bay.

Jon Monroe, of Washington state-based Jon Monroe Consulting, said: “This Covid consumer recovery has legs. Retail sales posted strong gains over Black Friday, up 21% over last year, and if you have not already booked merchandise to ship pre-Chinese New Year, you may already be too late.”

He said NVOCCs were involved in “a mad scramble” to secure space, with BCOs increasingly turning to the services of the consolidators to get their goods away at any price.

On other secondary trades, the SCFI recorded spot rate increases across the board, with, for example, rates from Asia to South Africa up 15% on the week to $2,289 per teu – 130% higher than 12 months ago.