In recent months, container shipping has staged a sharp rebound, now nearing pre-pandemic levels. However, the outlook remains clouded in uncertainty.
"Here we are in September, and actually, we've almost recovered back to the levels we had in global container volumes compared with pre-Covid," Jeremy Nixon, the chief executive officer of Singapore-based Ocean Network Express (ONE), told CNBC on Monday.
Nixon is discerning signs of a V-shaped rebound, after a six-month ‘roller coaster ride’ that began as a supply shock concentrated around China and evolved into a worldwide demand problem by Spring.
He attributed the expected rebound to three main factors:
- a surge in demand for personal protection equipment (such as masks and gloves), and medical goods;
- inventory build-up during the shutdowns are returning online again;
- a shift in consumer purchasing behavior as people cut back on travel and hospitality and spend more time and money at home.
"What we've seen in the last two or three months, those items around the home, whether it's home improvements or enhancements to people's home offices, electronics or even exercise bicycles. We're seeing that sector has really picked up, and a lot of that production actually moves in containers as opposed to air freight.”
ONE's liner network services more than 100 countries, operating in a sector that moves over 90% of global goods, which gives the company a unique window into global economic activity. Though there appears to be a rising tide lifting most boats, the group's CEO says some pockets of weakness remain. "A lot of the automotive production, whether in Europe, America, Asia -particularly in Japan- is still quite weak," Nixon explained.