by Richard Scott, Bulk Shipping Analysis, 

Earlier optimism, about a sizeable increase in global seaborne dry bulk trade during 2015 as a whole, has faded in the past few months. Imports of commodities into many countries are still growing, but negative changes have become much more prominent. A further steep decline in China’s huge coal imports is especially notable.

The world economy’s performance is providing only limited extra support for trade movements. Several recent forecasts indicate a slightly higher global economic growth rate this year. Modest acceleration in the advanced economies group, led by improvements in the USA and eurozone, is envisaged. However, prospects for some emerging economies have deteriorated, accompanied by far greater uncertainty about China’s outlook.


World seaborne iron ore trade growth in 2015 may prove quite modest, as shown by the estimate in table 1, after many years of rapid expansion. A 22mt (million tonne) or 2% rise to 1,368mt may be seen this year, although some forecasters are more optimistic, assuming a pick up in the remaining months. The dominant influence is China’s imports, now comprising almost 70% of the global total. Changes in other countries’ purchases have become less significant.

Calculations for China, pointing to further substantial enlargement of imports, are mainly based on an expected continued substitution of high-cost Chinese domestic iron ore supplies with lower cost international material. But that substitution effect seems to be faltering. Among other major importers including Japan and European Union, positive influences are limited.


A long uptrend in global seaborne coal trade was halted last year when the volume dimished slightly. Another similar decrease of about 24mt or 2%, down to 1,148mt, is envisaged in 2015. Both coking coal and the much larger steam coal category seem likely to experience a decrease.

In a number of countries coal import trends are still looking positive. One prominent example is expectations of sustained strong growth in India, where consumption is rising vigorously, especially steam coal usage, amid growing dependence on foreign suppliers. Conversely, there are clear signs of weakening imports elsewhere, which probably will more than offset supportive influences. China, in particular, is seeing a dramatic downturn, reflecting policies promoting cleaner fuels.


Forecast changes in world grain, including soya, trade are somewhat speculative. Crucial weather patterns, affecting domestic harvests in importing countries and exporters’ harvests are largely unpredictable. Based on highly tentative assumptions about these factors, grain trade’s growth trend could be maintained in 2015, at a slower pace than seen in the previous twelve months.

During this year global seaborne grain trade (including wheat, corn and other coarse grains plus soyabeans) could be marginally, by 1%, larger at 390mt. Higher imports of grains and soyabeans into China are a noticeable feature, while some other buyers in Asia, the Middle East area, and North Africa are providing additional support.


Approximately one-third of seaborne dry bulk trade is comprised of the extensive and varied minor bulks sector. Some elements such as steel products and forest products are very substantial and, arguably, not minor. Although calculations are complex and provisional, it appears that overall growth last year was minimal, resulting in a total of just over 1,500mt. Resumed but probably slow enlargement could be seen in 2015.


Clear signs suggesting a continuing slowdown in the world bulk carrier fleet’s growth are visible. After expanding by over 4% last year, deadweight capacity in 2015 is forecast to grow by 3%, reaching 779m dwt at end-year, as shown in table 2. New capacity entering the fleet (newbuilding deliveries) may increase, compared with the previous twelve months, but much higher scrapping of old or uneconomical vessels is set to offset a larger proportion.