Several positive influences support ing commodity import demand around the world are noticeable, but elsewhere volumes are likely to encounter downwards pressures during 2024. Consequently global seaborne dry bulk trade’s growth rate this year may be limited.
Expectations of a favourable impact derived from improving trends in world economic activity are still restrained. Accumulating evidence of diminishing inflation in many countries could soon be reflected in policy interest rates beginning a downwards trend. Never the less, despite these benefits, clear signs of a strengthening of global economic growth are awaited and there is particular uncertainty about the trajectory of China’s economy.
Recent estimates continue to suggest that a broadly based expansion of world trade in grain and soya is unfolding. Although wheat trade may be flat in the current year, movements of corn and other coarse grains as well as soyabeans and meal are expected to increase, contributing to substantially higher volumes in 2023/24.
Prospects for soyabeans and meal trade are shown in table 1. According to the latest calculations by the US Department of Agriculture, this segment could see growth of 7mt (million tonnes) or 3% in the 2023/24 marketing year ending September 2024. As a result, the total could increase to 238mt, following a rise of 4% to 231mt in the previous twelve months. During the current year higher import demand in a number of Asian countries is envisaged as the main positive influence.
The outlook for world coal trade in 2024 is overshadowed by uncertainty about whether the huge expansion of China’s coal imports seen last year is sustainable. A reduction in this major component of trade seems quite likely. There is an absence of firm signs indicating how increases among other countries could provide a full offset.
At the end of March the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources quarterly forecast displayed doubts. Based on these calculations, world steam coal trade (including some land movements but mostly seaborne), comprising over three quarters of the coal trade total, could fall by 24mt or 2% to 1096mt in 2024. The main negative element envisaged is a 66mt (18%) reduction in China’s imports to 306mt, accompanied by mixed changes elsewhere.
Some predictions of steel production among the main raw materials importing countries suggest that increased volumes may be achievable during 2024. Higher crude steel output in the European Union, Japan and South Korea is predicted while in India (a major coking coal buyer) brisk further growth appears attainable.
Analysts at AGDISR point to rising iron ore imports into the EU, Japan and Korea, accompanied by additional volumes into several smaller Asian importing countries. These together could contribute an additional 16mt in 2024, raising the group’s total to 351mt, compared with last year’s 335mt. But a predicted 62mt (5%) decline in China’s import volume to 1,118mt, comprising over 70% of global iron ore imports, could act as a restraint on growth in the wider trend.
Several elements of the minor bulk segment seem to have potential for enlargement. In the current year positive signs have emerged among those commodities related to industrial (construction and manufacturing) activity, such as steel and forest products, bauxite/alumina and cement, possibly resulting in sizeable increases.
The Panamax (70-99,999 deadweight tonnes) size group including Kamsarmax vessels, comprises a quarter of the world bulk carrier fleet. As shown in table 2, this segment grew by 3–4% annually in the past two years and a similar growth rate is envisaged in 2024. Orderbook schedules at shipbuilders suggest higher newbuilding deliveries this year, and these may be accompanied by higher sales to recycling yards, although prospects for these demolition sales remain hazy.