Archives for posts with tag: Chinese imports

One of the major drivers behind the challenges currently facing many of the shipping markets has been slower demand growth. World seaborne trade grew by less than 2% in 2015, the slowest pace since 2009, with trends in China pivotal. After the emergence of plenty of disappointing demand-side data last year, what do the indicators of Chinese trade so far in 2016 reveal?

A Surprising Start?

It’s a vital question. Chinese seaborne imports reached a massive 2.1 billion tonnes last year, accounting for 20% of global imports. But in 2015, growth in Chinese imports eased to just 1%, from an average of 9% p.a. in 2011-14. However, data for the first quarter of 2016 provides some pleasant surprises. After slowing for four consecutive years, growth in Chinese seaborne imports in tonnes appears to have picked up pace in Q1 2016, increasing by 6% y-o-y.

Picking Up Speed

Iron ore trade, which last year accounted for 45% of total Chinese imports, has driven much of this growth. Iron ore imports had a strong Q1 2016, rising by 7% y-o-y to 239mt. This was supported by restocking of iron ore inventories in line with improved steel demand and prices in recent months, following government support for infrastructure projects. This has been despite total steel production continuing to contract y-o-y, by 4% in Q1. Meanwhile, Chinese coal imports appear to have stabilised recently, following a sharp fall in 1H 2015, and the pace of decline in imports in Q1 2016 eased to 6% y-o-y. Growth in China’s minor bulk imports also improved marginally in Q1.

Some improvements have also been apparent outside of the dry bulk sector. Expansion in China’s crude oil imports has accelerated, with imports up 14% y-o-y in Q1 to 84mt, following robust growth of 9% in 2015. Imports have been boosted further this year by the liberalisation of the crude oil import market, opening up imports to independent refiners. And although Chinese gas demand came under pressure in 2015 from weaker industrial use, recent cuts to domestic gas prices have supported demand and LNG imports grew 17% y-o-y in Q1 2016 to 6mt.

Mixed Results

Meanwhile, indicators of Chinese exports remain mixed. Container trade on the key Far East-Europe route grew slightly in Q1, after falling 4% in 2015; the impact of adjustments to European inventories and falling Russian demand is likely to moderate this year. However, growth in China’s steel products exports has slowed, partly reflecting greater domestic steel demand.

A Question Of Endurance?

Overall, it would still be fair to say that the seaborne demand environment is still highly challenging, and that volatility clouds the picture in China and elsewhere. Moreover, questions remain over the sustainability of recent developments in some of China’s industrial sectors, and major obstacles to trade volume growth clearly remain. Nevertheless, there are some areas where improved Chinese volume growth has provided a nice surprise so far this year. Against a troubled background, shipping market players will hope these trends at least have a little mileage. Have a nice day.

SIW1221

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Bulkcarrier owners could be forgiven for feeling just a little bit dizzy at the moment. The unprecedented growth in China’s steel industry over the last decade has for years provided an adrenaline-infused experience in dry bulk trade. But with both Chinese steel production and iron ore imports registering a decline in the first half of 2015, is the playtime over?

Down To Earth With A Bump

It’s no surprise that the recent wobbles in China’s economy have been leaving dry bulk’s thrill-seekers with a nasty headache. Construction activity has slowed, and total steel use dropped by 5% y-o-y in the first five months of the year. Steel production has declined by a less severe 1% y-o-y, but this is still an unpleasant change of direction for those accustomed to average output growth of more than 10% per annum over the last ten years.

Round The Roundabout Again

Yet these worries over China’s steel industry are not new. According to China’s annual estimates, steel output growth in 2014 slowed to 1%, from 14% in 2013. However, iron ore imports increased in 2014 by a massive 15% to 914mt. Almost heroic growth in Australian iron ore production flooded the global iron ore market with cheap ore, displacing some higher-cost domestic Chinese ore production. Ambitious production expansion in Australia is still underway, and exports from the country are up 9% so far this year, but total Chinese seaborne imports are down 1%. So what has changed?

Balance Shifts On The See-Saw

This year seems to have proved a tipping point in the iron ore market. Weak Chinese demand is contributing to record low iron ore prices (dipping below $50/tonne in April). In 2014, the rapid drop in prices boosted China’s overall import demand, but no such positive effect is visible this year. Instead, the extent of the price drop has squeezed out a number of small iron ore miners across the world, and Chinese imports from many smaller suppliers have been depressed this year. And while Chinese miners have clearly reduced domestic production, there are questions over how much more capacity (particularly state-owned) will be cut.

Swings In Need Of A Push?

The unsettling thought for the dry bulk market is that the excitement of the Chinese ride could be coming to an end. Despite the price drop, most major ore miners are forging ahead with expansion plans. If China’s steel usage has peaked, miners will be fighting for market share in a shrinking demand arena. And if Chinese ore output proves resilient to price pressures, this could leave those expecting a resumption of firm iron ore trade growth with only a severe case of vertigo.

While global growth in low-cost ore production could still boost imports later this year, there is certainly no longer a consensus that China’s steel industry has considerable long-term growth potential. Faced with this ominous scenario, bulker owners will be hoping that the current weakness in China’s iron ore imports is only a temporary downward swing. Time will tell, but for some the playground which once spurred great excitement might be starting to lose its appeal.

SIWK20150807