Archives for posts with tag: dry bulk trade

Checking The Basket

Annual projections of seaborne trade can be useful demand side indicators. However, often it is difficult to get a real understanding of short-term trade trends. A year ago (SIW 1189) we looked at a ‘basket’ approach, which took monthly seaborne trade flows for a range of commodities, to help show year to date global seaborne trade trends. Although monthly data can be difficult to use, is not comprehensively available, and is generally subject to a lag of several months, the same monthly ‘basket’ approach examined a year ago remains a helpful indicator of short-term seaborne trade trends.

Promising Contents?

The graph shows the ‘Trade Index’ (see description for details) up to June 2016. Clearly monthly data can be very volatile; in January the index stood at -1%, but four months later it reached 7%. Furthermore, the index has picked up compared to 2015 average levels, averaging 2.1% in Q1 2016 and 4.3% in Q2. Some of this trend is accounted for by a rise in dry bulk trade which fell last year, with China’s dry bulk imports growing 6% y-o-y in 1H 2016, following a 2% drop in 2015 (although risks remain over the sustainability of this improvement). An increase in box trade growth has also been apparent, with expansion in Asia-Europe trade back in positive territory and growth in intra-Asian trade picking up.

Elsewhere, seaborne crude and products trade, which were two of the fastest growing elements of total seaborne trade in 2015, expanded firmly in 1H 2016. This was underpinned by robust growth in crude imports into China (16%), India and the US, despite the disruptions to Nigerian crude exports in recent months.

Half Full Or Half Empty?

Taking a wider view, even since the financial crisis there have been clear peaks in the index. The peak in early 2011 was partly on the back of strong growth in Chinese dry bulk, oil and gas imports and box exports from Asia. The index picked up again in 2012, supported by several months of strong growth in iron ore and coal trade to Asia. The next peak was in late 2013, when once again coal imports into Asia grew robustly and expansion in intra-Asian and Asia-Europe box trade was very strong. Today, you might conclude, if you’re a ‘basket half full’ type, that we’re heading steadily upwards again. But, if you’re a ‘basket half empty’ person, you might note that the peaks each time have been short-lived and have been getting lower.

Is There Something In It?

So, our index appears to be on the up,  although still at a relatively moderate level in historical terms, and with a volatile track record behind. There’s something in the ‘basket’ for both the optimist and the pessimist! Have a nice day.

 

 

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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.

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