Dry Bulk Shipping - China holds the key to a strong bulk market

Dry Bulk Shipping - China holds the key to a strong bulk market

Overview

It is safe to conclude already that it has been another truly amazing year for Chinese iron ore imports. A growth rate of 10.8% for the first 11 months as compared to the same period last year is solid. Evident also from the freight rate development in the Capesize market, the last 5 months have been exceptional, with 17.8% y-o-y growth for July-November.

Demand:
It is safe to conclude already that it has been another truly amazing year for Chinese iron ore imports. A growth rate of 10.8% for the first 11 months as compared to the same period last year is solid. Evident also from the freight rate development in the Capesize market, the last 5 months have been exceptional, with 17.8% y-o-y growth for July-November. On top of that, coal imports (not all seaborne) have grown by 15.7% in January-October compared to the same period last year. As we move into a seasonally stronger part of the year for bulk trades, the November and December indications that are already visible point towards more strong numbers.

So far, we have not recorded any major impact on demand due to the announced 3% Chinese import tax on low calorific coal that should be in place now. Indonesia is expected to be affected by this to some extent, as almost all lignite imports into China originate from Indonesia.

As regards freight rates, the smaller segments of Handysize and Supramax have enjoyed an almost unbroken run of better earnings over a sustained period. Both segments are propelled forward by a strong Atlantic market, mainly driven by front-haul routes out of the US Gulf to Continental Europe and the North Coast of South America, mostly carrying grain.

Not since the middle of last year have we seen average Handysize rates above USD 10,000 per day. For Supramax, the stronger demand has meant average freight rates have gone from USD 10,000 per day to USD 15,000 per day. The 6-month TC rate has also gone up, indicating that the market does not believe this strength is about to instantly evaporate. However, it will not last for very long if we use the same argument and look at the 1 and 3 year TC rates that have barely moved.

When looking at Capesize TC rates, six months deals in the period market were quoted at USD 31,000 in September. As the market fell back during October to stabilise at the USD 15-20,000 per day interval during November, the breakaway in the short period market was neutralised. At the end of November, TC rates, regardless of duration, stood at the same level – indicating uncertainty about the future direction. FFA rates, on the other hand, are not quite as optimistic, but equally volatile when offering around USD 13,000 for a Q1-2014 contract in early December.

Supply:
The fleet has now grown by 5.3% (55 million DWT) in 2013 with a further 7 million DWT still set for delivery in 2013. This means the full year fleet growth could hit 6% as the higher freight market has limited demolition activity. Since 1 July, just 6.3 million DWT has left the active fleet on that account.

Fleet growth in the Capesize segment has been going steeply South since the middle of last year, where the segment growth during the previous year reached 20%. Since then, the slow inflow of new tonnage in 2013 has left Capesize fleet growth at just 5% in October 2013. Panamax has been the fastest growing segment in 2013, but at a significantly lower peak level than the Capesize segment. It is more positive now for the Handysize segment, which has seen the fleet decrease in size this year as the demolition of 5.5 million DWT has offset the delivery of 5.3 million DWT.

The slowing trend in fleet growth will continue into next year and has not been wiped out completely by the hefty ordering activity we have witnessed in past two months – 136 new ships with a capacity of 13.3 million DWT. Amongst them were 20 VLOCs, 16 Capesizes and 24 Handysizes. Year-to-date contracting activity stand at 63.2 million DWT, this is on course to become higher for the full year than the combined bulk carrier contracting activity during 2011-2012.

The graph above gives us a snapshot of the situation as it will play out if no more orders were placed and the assumptions behind all came true. The graph tells us that fleet growth of at least 4% is on the cards for the coming years. In order to improve the underlying utilisation of the fleet it is vital to achieve an extended period where demand outstrips supply and through that, reverse the situation of past 4-5 years.

Outlook:
Coal exports from the US have been growing since 2007. However, after a record-setting year in 2012, the numbers appear to be dwindling. Even though March this year set a record with 12.3 million tons, 7% higher than the record set in June 2012, it is not representative of the whole year. The exported total in the first nine months of 2013 is 7.5%, lower than that of the same time last year. Seen on a broader scale, however, the 2013 numbers are still around 100% higher than they were only 4 years ago. In combination with the long sailing distances that most US coal export routes hold, the trade has established itself as a key element in the market, also in the future. In the light of lower domestic demand for coal in the US due to the excess production of cheap gas, BIMCO expects US coal producers to become a mainstay in the Atlantic market. Down the road, we may also see coal exports from US West Coast ports.

Going forward, EIA expect US coal exports to remain elevated in 2014 too. Driven by the increased consumption of gas within the US at the expense of coal, producers opt for exporting to Europe and Asia. However, productions costs in the US require relatively high sales prices, and with coal being abundant, particularly in the Asian region, the potential seems to be capped for the near-term future.

Despite slower Chinese GDP growth in 2014, commodity imports could very well stay strong. This is due to the factors of diversity in suppliers, lower commodity prices, and the lower quality of domestically produced iron ore and thermal coal. BIMCO expects demand growth for 2014 in the range of 4½-6%. Such strong growth will outstrip supply and bring about an improvement to the fundamental balance.

To sum up, our forecast for the December/January: BIMCO believes that the elevated level of Capesize TC average rates will remain volatile and stay around USD 15,000-30,000 per day. Panamax TC average rates will stay in the region of USD 9,000-16,000 per day. For the Supramax segment, BIMCO forecasts freight rates in the USD 11,000-17,000 per day interval, whereas Handysize rates is expected to stay strong in the region of USD 9,000-12,000 per day.


 

in Copenhagen, DK

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