The container shipping industry should treat signs of recovery cautiously, until there are consistent month-on-month volume increases on the main trade lanes, according to industry consultant Drewry.
In its latest Container Forecaster report, Drewry said it was optimistic that recovery was under way, but said the industry was "not off the at-risk list yet".
It said: "With a major carrier failure thus far averted and container volumes on the upturn, many believe this year will see a return to better times and profitability.
"But, it is still early days. A large number of post-panamax vessels are due for delivery this year and most of the all-important transpacific rate contracts have still to be signed.
"Until we see consistent month-on-month improvements on the main trades into this year’s peak season period, we cannot seriously suggest the global recession is over and that the container sector can heave a sigh of relief."
With head-haul volumes on the core east-west trade lanes improving since late last year, Drewry has upgraded its volume forecast for the transpacific this year from 3.5% to 5.4%.
But the analyst added: "One of the leading US consumer confidence indices fell sharply in February, and in China, the Li & Fung PMI index recorded a decline in new export orders for February (compared with January) – although this did pick up last month.
"Loaded inbound container volumes recorded at Los Angeles in March also fell by 2.9% year-on-year."
Drewry said it expected overall rates to increase this year, but warned that the industry was still facing overcapacity.
Report editor Neil Dekker said: "Healthier traffic flows have, however, helped to give a slightly false impression of the current ‘recovery’, since, in particular, carriers have constrained capacity on the transpacific trade.
"This year will be a very tough one for carriers to balance capacity against forecast demand, and should too much tonnage be brought back in, or too quickly, it is possible that the freight rate improvements giving carriers much needed cash injections could be derailed to some extent."