by Richard Scott, Bulk Shipping Analysis 

Expectations for some commodity imports into a number of countries have become more cautious. Positive signs are still prominent but adverse factors and uncertainties are more visible. Reflecting these perceptions, it now seems likely that overall seaborne dry bulk trade growth in 2015 will be modest.

Underlining a cautionary view, economic growth within the OECD area awaits a sizeable spending boost from much lower oil prices. During this year’s first quarter the area’s GDP grew by only 0.3% (compared with the previous three months), well down from 0.5% growth in the preceding period. However, a pick up is foreseen. Also, China’s economy continues to decelerate, slowing to a 7% increase in the first quarter.


Recent steel production patterns among the main raw materials importing countries further emphasize a fairly subdued picture. In the first four months of 2015, reductions were widespread. Compared with last year’s same period, China’s crude steel output was 1% lower at 270mt (million tonnes), Japan saw a 4% decline to 35.1mt, South Korea was 6% down at 22.7mt while EU production was flat at 58.1mt.

Over the remainder of this year, EU steel output may improve amid a reviving economy, with advantages for iron ore import demand. Also, China’s iron ore imports this year could grow robustly, as low-priced international supplies continue displacing high-cost material from Chinese mines (table 1). In the first four months of 2015, however, China’s ore imports rose by only 1% at 307mt.


Could global seaborne coal trade decline this year? Growth prospects have faded, mainly due to further evidence of China’s moderating requirements. An overall reduction seems to be avoidable, because prospects for sustained upwards trends in many importing countries are solid.

Nevertheless, signs point to limited potential for additional world movements in 2015 as a whole. The highest profile expanding market is India, where coal imports increased rapidly again last year to an estimated total of over 220mt, and which could see another rise of 20-30mt this year, according to some forecasters. Elsewhere indications suggest a more mixed evolution.


Global grain trade predictions for the twelve months ahead are still subject to great uncertainty. Upcoming domestic harvests of wheat and coarse grains in the importing areas of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and China will have a huge influence on their foreign purchases. These domestic crops remain dependent upon unpredictable weather. Currently there are no signs of any unusually large crop shortfalls, but conditions may change.

An early, tentative forecast by the International Grains Council suggests that world grain trade could decrease slightly in 2015/16 starting July. After a small 2% increase during the year now ending, raising the total to 317mt, a 3% reduction to 311mt is envisaged. Lower imports into the Middle East is the main negative element foreseen, down by 8% at 55 mt, accompanied by some limited changes elsewhere.


Forest products trade is one of the principal elements of the minor bulk sector, consisting of logs, sawnwoods, wood chips and pulp and many other items. Last year, world seaborne forest products trade appears to have grown solidly by about 4% reaching around 195mt. Additional volumes into key countries in Asia and Europe could enable trade to increase similarly in 2015.


The world bulk carrier fleet’s growth, as a whole, is expected to continue slowing this year. But in one part, the Handymax (40–64,999dwt) size group, expansion may accelerate. Table 2 shows this fleet’s progress. During 2015 higher newbuilding deliveries are likely compared with last year, although scrapping could rise as well. Resulting deadweight growth in the Handymax fleet seems likely to be around 8%, a markedly stronger rate than seen in the previous twelve months.