Dry bulk shipowners have had solid reasons to smile this week and rightfully so. The physical market recorded an impressive rally and fixtures reported seem unable to “beat the index” as it is breaking records day by day. Same rally was followed by the futures market too, although somewhat corrected as we are concluding the week.
The market’s upturn was much anticipated since we are exiting depressing lows and these deep dives of the freight market tend to not last too long. Especially when the hit the dry shipping market experienced earlier in the year (it was not long ago when capes were running at US$2,000/d) derived not from inherent supply/demand imbalances but rather the external impact of the pandemic which drove the world to a standstill.
China’s re-opening and the subsequent demand for iron ore indeed fuelled demand for the Capesize market, pushing their earnings to, finally, significantly profitable territory. Thursday June 18th was the day when the Capesize average daily earnings jumped an all-time high of US$6,244 in a single day and on June 19th have closed at excess of US$25,500/d.
The usual metrics suggest that this upturn in freight earnings has legs, as China’s demand for ore is buoyant due to restocking and increased infrastructure spending. News that Vale reopened its mines in Itabira region (which suspended operations by court decision for just a little over a week) relieved concerns regarding this year’s iron ore production. Current forecasts point to a healthy ore output from major mines; enough to support the strong Chinese demand and so far we have seen shipments from both Brazil and Australia to have picked up.
Panamax follows suit
The buoyant sentiment capesize players have been enjoying this week has spread to the smaller sizes too, as it usually does, with panamaxes enjoying the similarly positive ambiance. A year’s period employment for a kamsarmax type has long passed the five digits mark, capturing that very upward spiral we are currently undergoing. Split parcels from capes in tandem with strong Asian demand for coal and grains, have pushed panamax earnings to their highest marks for 2020 thus far, averaging US$10,603 daily as of June 19th.
US grain exports will be the focus for panamaxes from now on, as seasonally the Chinese buyers turn to the US over the second half of the year to cover their grain needs. Despite the politically fragile relations between Washington and Beijing, it appears that the latter will live up to its commitments under the Phase One pact.
We have already seen Chinese crushers purchasing forward US soy cargoes for delivery in the new marketing year, commencing September 1st. Although it is highly likely for the Chinese to ask for a quarter’s extension to the Phase One deal’s implementation, grain market is expected to continue being a significant source of support for the panamax carriers as the year progresses.
Will the smiles last?
It remains to be seen how long this rally will last for, but key variables suggest that bulkers will likely sail in profitable earnings for the balance of the year. Having said that, predictions are particularly challenging in this highly volatile environment we all operate in.
Coronavirus cases in Brazil are peaking and reports suggest that a new wave of cases is surfacing in China. Another universal lockdown will hit supply chains and shipping markets hard and will bring us back to a loss-making environment. We should, however, keep in mind that, in our market, volatility is often welcome as it is this volatile ecosystem in which dry bulk players can take positions and open themselves to the possibility of significant profits.