by Richard Scott, Bulk Shipping Analysis.

Healthy growth in global seaborne dry bulk trade this year, continuing into 2014, is still foreseeable. In a wide range of countries around the world import demand for dry bulk commodities looks set to increase. Almost two-thirds of the overall expansion is expected to be comprised of additional iron ore and coal shipments.

Global economic activity during 2013 has not provided as much support as predicted earlier. A slackening trend in China is particularly noticeable. World GDP growth of an unchanged 3.1% this year, based on the IMF’s latest estimates, does not represent good progress. But some moderately encouraging signs have emerged recently, including a possible turnaround in the weak European economy, pointing towards a slightly better trend ahead.


Seaborne iron ore trade seems likely to grow by about 52mt (million tonnes) or 5% in the current year, reaching an estimated 1,176mt, as shown in table 1. The outcome is heavily dependent upon the continuing vigorous performance of China’s imports, which comprise about two- thirds of the global total. Among other importers, limited prospects for additional volumes are evident.

Europe’s iron ore imports in 2013 could be lower than seen last year, resulting from the likely reduction in steel output. By contrast, Japan’s requirements probably will be slightly higher than the 2012 total of 131mt because steel production is picking up. Chinese mills imported 745mt last year and may raise their volume by over 5% in the current twelve months, although some forecasters are now suggesting a stronger expansion.


About a quarter of seaborne coal trade consists of coking coal shipments for steel industry usage. This category may see around 6% growth in 2013, while the much larger steam coal sector, mainly supplying power stations, expands by about 4%. The incremental 51mt resulting raises the prospective overall global total to 1,158mt.

Rising imports into the Asian region are the main positive influence. India’s rapidly rising purchases have become a prominent feature in the past few years. Coupled with the strong upwards trend in China, imports into these two countries were approaching 400mt in 2012, and another large extra quantity is envisaged during the present twelvemonths.


When measured on a calendar year basis, world seaborne grain trade (wheat, corn and other coarse grains, plus soyabeans) may achieve only a marginal 1% increase this year, reaching 327mt. But the second half picture and further ahead is looking more positive than the first six months.

In the 2013/14 crop year running from mid-2013 onwards, trade in wheat and coarse grains could benefit from sharply higher imports into China. Similarly, signs suggest that soyabeans trade in marketing year 2013/14 starting October could experience much greater buying by Chinese crushing mills. Improved global grain supplies from leading exporters are likely to ensure that international prices are more attractive for importers.


About one third of global dry bulk commodity trade is comprised of numerous and widely varying minor bulk commodities. Within the industrial bulks sub-category — including steel products and forest products — related to industrial and construction activity, growth in movements could be about 4% this year. Indications of growth among agricultural trade are less obvious.


Although expansion is decelerating, the world bulk carrier fleet is still set to grow rapidly in 2013, as illustrated by table 2. Growth of around 7% to 725m deadweight tonnes at the end of this year seems predictable, reflecting a very large reduction in newbuilding deliveries from shipbuilders following the record high volume seen last year. Relatively high scrapping of older vessels probably will contribute also, but annual demolition sales are likely to be well below the peak reached last year.