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Empty container movements surge by 20%

Utilizing data from Container Trade Statistics (CTS) on the movement of full containers between regions, Sea-Intelligence estimated the corresponding trends in empty container movements.


Empty container volumes, when compared to 2019 levels to mitigate the effects of pandemic-related volatility, have consistently stayed around a 20% increase in the past few months.



Source:, Sunday Spotlight, issue 653"


While assessing volume simply in TEU terms provides a reasonable indication of market behaviour, considering that operational costs associated with empty movements primarily relate to port handling expenses, it can be argued that TEU*Miles offers a more comprehensive measure, especially since it is considered the optimal measure for full containers.


"This is because the distance travelled is critical when evaluating container demand, and it might appear incongruent if we do not assess empties in the same way," mentioned Alan Murphy, CEO, of Sea-Intelligence.


In essence, the trends observed when measuring empty movements by TEU*Miles do not significantly differ from those observed when measuring in TEU.


"The question is how this then matches up to the growth in full containers," pointed out Alan Murphy.


Globally, TEUs experienced a 2.5% increase compared to 2019, while TEU*Miles grew by 4.2%. Specifically focusing on head-haul trades, TEU growth in December 2023 saw a 7.8% rise compared to 2019, with TEU*Miles experiencing an 8.0% growth during the same period.


"This makes it very clear that the need to move empty containers has grown significantly more than the need to move full containers, with the back-haul trades growing 2½ times faster. This means that the actual costs related to moving head-haul containers has grown, and de-facto this means that head-haul shippers need to cover an increasing cost of moving empty containers going forward," explained Alan Murphy.


Shenzhen Xunlaitong specializes in shipping export from Shenzhen to Australia & New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands and more business