Many signs pointing to rising commodity import demand around the world are clearly visible. The additional volumes probably will enable global seaborne dry bulk trade to grow solidly in 2013. Prospects for some key elements are not predictable with any precision, however, because of great uncertainties about the pace of progress of importing industries.
The outlook for economic activity, with implications for many users of industrial commodities, remains vulnerable to adverse influences and setbacks. In its January update the IMF estimated GDP growth among the advanced countries (mainly EU, USA, and Japan) at an average of just 1.4% this year, only a minimal improvement from last year’s sluggish 1.3% rise.
Despite strong competition from alternative fuels, and greater contributions from renewable energy sources in some countries, coal trade prospects in 2013 and further ahead look very positive. Overall growth in seaborne coal trade could be 4–5% this year, which represents large extra volumes, because annual trade now exceeds the 1bn tonnes level.
Extra imports into Asian countries are likely to comprise a large part of the incremental global coal trade volume over the next twelve months. Table 1 shows how the region’s coking coal purchases have been developing. Although this market segment is much smaller than steam coal, Asian importers (including Japan) appear to have increased their volumes by about 10mt (million tonnes) in the past year and further growth is foreseeable.
Figures now available, covering the whole of last year, show clearly the differing experiences of steel producers in the main raw materials importing areas. Iron ore trade benefited mostly from China’s higher purchases. Crude steel output in China was 3% up at 716.5mt. By contrast, Japan’s production was almost flat at 107.2mt, while the EU’s volume was down by 5% at 169.4mt.
Prospects for steel production during 2013 are mixed as
well. Chinese mills could see another sizeable increase, possibly exceeding last year’s percentage, resulting from a pick up in economic activity. Japan’s output may also grow, amid the new government’s emphasis on reviving the economy. But potential for progress in Europe is limited by the continuing recession.
Expectations for global grain trade have become less pessimistic over the past few months. But a marked reduction is still envisaged. Sharp declines in wheat and coarse grains imports by China, the Middle East area, northern and sub- Saharan Africa, and Mexico, are forecast in the current crop year ending June.
World grain trade in 2012/13 could be 13mt or 5% lower at 256.5mt, based on the International Grains Council’s latest assessment. In the new 2013/14 crop year beginning July a stronger trade development may emerge, if larger crops in a number of key exporting countries this year assist in improving world supplies and moderating international prices. Another factor will be domestic harvests in importing countries, which also are currently hard to predict.
World seaborne trade in bauxite/alumina was affected by negative influences last year, and appears to have fallen compared with the volume of over 110mt seen in the previous twelve months. Primary aluminium production in two of the main raw materials importing areas was lower in 2012, according to International Aluminium Institute figures. North America saw a 2% decrease, while West Europe was down by 12%. Conversely, China’s output rose by 11%.
BULK CARRIER FLEET
The world fleet of bulk carriers expanded massively again in 2012 although, because of higher scrapping, the capacity growth rate was less rapid than seen in the previous year. Deadweight capacity was augmented by a further massive volume of newbuilding deliveries, as shown in table 2, which added almost 100m dwt. In 2013, a much lower newbuildings total is currently expected.