by Richard Scott, Bulk Shipping Analysis

Numerous signs point to rising imports of commodities into many countries over the period ahead. As a result, the solid upwards trend in global seaborne dry bulk trade seems set to remain intact. Movements of raw materials, fuels, other industrial commodities and agricultural products are all contributing.

An improved outlook for economic activity in the ‘advanced’ group of countries was emphasized by a recent IMF report. GDP growth in this group (mainly USA, Europe, Japan and Korea) could be almost a full percentage point higher in 2014 at 2.2%, compared with last year’s 1.3%. Although not spectacular, this acceleration, if achieved, will be the best performance since four years ago. By contrast, China’s growth rate is expected to slacken marginally to 7.5%.


Prospects for increasing coal trade are still focused on Asia, and particularly India and China. Table 1 shows forecasts for steam coal imports by key Asian buyers. In the much smaller coking coal category, additional volumes may be needed by these importers as well.

In the latest quarterly analysis by Australia’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, global steam coal trade is predicted to rise by 14mt (million tonnes) or 2% in 2014, to 1,037mt. This quantity includes land movements, but is mainly seaborne. Forecasts by some other analysts are more positive, however, suggesting potential for 4–5% expansion during the current year. But both India and China are especially difficult to forecast accurately.


Parts of the world market for iron ore are likely to become stronger this year. There are doubts about how brisk China’s import demand will prove, but further significant growth is envisaged. An accompanying pick up in Europe could be seen also, and possibly additional volumes into Japan.

The World Steel Association’s short range outlook for steel demand, published last month, provides some support for cautiously optimistic expectations.

During 2014, compared with last year, China’s steel

demand could be 3% higher, at 721mt. In the European Union a 3% increase to 143mt is estimated, but in Japan, calculations show a marginal 1% decrease to just below 65mt. WSA economists foresee continued volatility and uncertainty.


Signs indicating grain trade activity over the remainder of 2014 and into next year will become gradually clearer in the weeks ahead. Summer domestic grain harvests in northern hemisphere importing countries are still highly uncertain. When these can be assessed more accurately, likely import demand also probably will be clarified.

For the current 2013/14 crop year ending June, International Grains Council estimates show wheat and coarse grains trade rising by 25mt or 9%, reaching 291mt, a record high total. A doubling of China’s imports, to 19mt, comprises a large part of the overall increment. The remainder is contributed by higher imports into other Asian countries, the Middle East, north and sub-Saharan Africa, and Mexico.


Agricultural or related products comprise a large part of the minor bulk trades sector. Movements of sugar, oilseeds meal, and rice, as well as fertilizer raw materials and processed fertilizers are transported in sizeable volumes which are estimated to have reached around 340mt last year. Varying intensities of upwards pressure on imports are evident, suggesting that this sub-sector could see continued growth in 2014.


Within the world bulk carrier fleet, the Capesize group is the largest category, representing about two-fifths of the total. As shown by table 2, Capesize deadweight capacity growth could slow further to around 4% during 2014. Newbuilding deliveries are likely to be lower than seen last year, but scrapping also could decline. This group expanded very rapidly over the past five years, more than doubling its capacity.