Additional evidence emerging in recent weeks points towards strengthening commodity import demand in a number of countries. Consequently prospects for world seaborne dry bulk trade this year and into 2024 have become brighter.
Despite ongoing restraints, an International Monetary Fund appraisal of the world economy published at the end of July was slightly more positive. Forecast global growth in gross domestic product is now “modestly higher” than predicted a couple of months ago. But growth in 2023 is still expected to be 0.5 percentage points lower than seen last year, at 3.0%, and support is likely to be derived mainly from the envisaged acceleration in China to 5.2%, following a low 3.0% last year.
The outlook for world coal trade this year has improved recently. Several forecasts suggest that an increase of 3–5% or more now looks achievable, after a flat outcome in the previous twelve months. Both steam (or thermal) coal and coking coal segments are likely to see growth.
In an end-July update of trends in the global coal market, the International Energy Agency highlighted “elevated global demand for thermal coal imports” comprising the largest part, about four-fifths of the total. IEA analysts envisage that world seaborne coal trade as a whole in 2023 could exceed the peak 1,331mt (million tonnes) recorded four years ago, reaching 1,335mt. The total is equivalent to about a 6% rise from last year’s volume. Higher imports into China are a feature of the upturn unfolding.
Resumed growth in iron ore trade is also evolving. This view is heavily dependent on assumptions about China’s imports, comprising three-quarters of the world volume. In the first half of 2023 imports into China increased vigorously by 40mt or 8%, to reach 576mt. However, signs suggest that the annual growth rate will not be so high.
An estimate published last month by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources, suggested that global iron ore trade could increase by 2.2% in 2023 to 1,608mt (including land movements). Changes in some individual import demand elements may differ from those envisaged, including a flat imports volume in China, but the overall world growth predicted seems realistic. A further rise is foreseen next year.
Prospects for world grain and soya trade in the period ahead are still looking positive. Estimates for trade in both wheat plus corn and other coarse grains, and soyabeans plus meal, indicate 2–3% growth could be seen in the new 2023/24 trade year starting October 2023 (beginning July for wheat). That outcome represents an improvement compared with the preceding twelve months when grain trade weakened.
According to a Bulk Shipping Analysis compilation of separate US Department of Agriculture calculations, global grain and soya trade is likely to be marginally (by1%) lower during the 2022/23 trade year ending next month. A 6mt decrease to 660mt is estimated. Forecasts published in mid-July indicate that a 24mt increase to 683mt could follow in 2023/24. Higher imports into Asian countries are expected to be a prominent feature.
Global seaborne trade in aluminium raw materials — bauxite, and the processed alumina — apparently increased by about 8% in 2022, to around 190mt. Supported by further expansion of China’s imports, comprising two-thirds of the total volume, another similar rise is foreseeable this year.
The world fleet of bulk carriers is expected to be augmented during 2023 by higher newbuilding deliveries than seen last year, as shown in table 2. The additional capacity is likely to be spread over several size categories. But fleet growth may remain below 3% because scrapping is also expected to increase, while remaining at a relatively low level.