by Richard Scott, Bulk Shipping Analysis

Indicators of global dry bulk trade seen recently have
been mostly positive for the 12 months ahead. During
the remainder of 2010 and into next year, additional
imports of industrial commodities — raw materials and semimanufactured
products — are likely to be needed by many
countries. But signs of a pick up in grain trade are still
Reviving economic activity around the world and, in China
and other emerging markets, a greatly improving
performance, provides a favourable background for dry bulk
trade. The latest IMF forecasts suggest that GDP in the
advanced economies group could grow by 2.3% in 2010,
after last year’s painful 3.2% decline. Emerging and
developing economies may accelerate from a slow 2.4%
increase in 2009, to rapid 6.3% expansion this year.
Expectations of rising electricity and steel production in large
parts of the world point to an encouraging outlook for
seaborne coal trade over the next 12 months. In some
countries, including India and China, shortages of coal
produced by domestic mines are likely, enhancing potential
for imports.
Within the steam coal sector, higher imports during 2010
are expected in South Korea, Taiwan, India, Malaysia and
possibly China as well. A recent Abare forecast showed global
steam coal trade (including land movements, but mostly
seaborne) growing by over 20mt (million tonnes) or 3% this
year, from 730mt in 2009, to 750.4mt.
Estimates shown in table 1 suggest that Asia’s seaborne
imports total, including Japan, could increase by about 4%,
reaching 387mt.
Figures for blast furnace pig iron production in the 2010 first
quarter underline the revival under way. Among key raw
materials importing countries, pig iron output in Europe,
Japan and South Korea maintained or lifted the improved
levels seen in last year’s final months. China’s output
continued to expand.
Compared with the depressed first quarter 2009 volumes
experienced by many countries, the latest numbers for
January–March 2010 show spectacular rises. EU pig iron
production was 49% higher, Japan’s output was 39% higher,
South Korea saw a 30% increase, while China achieved 23%
growth. Although these exceptionally fast growth rates will
not continue throughout 2010, the improvement is greatly
benefiting iron ore consumption and imports.
A notable feature of grain trade in the current crop year, now
into its final weeks, is that there are no positive elements
among importers. Estimates of imports in all the main areas
are either flat or down, a highly unusual occurrence. As a
result, based on International Grains Council figures, global
wheat and coarse grains trade in crop year 2009/10 ending
June is likely to be 7% lower, at 229.8mt.
Usually, additional purchases in some importing countries
are seen, often reflecting domestic harvest shortfalls. These
extra volumes either partially or wholly offset decreases
elsewhere, or may be sufficient to cause an overall world
trade increase. In the new 2010/11 year starting July, this
pattern may resume, but at present there are no specific
signs pointing to a strong upturn.
Within the agricultural and related commodities group of
minor bulk trades — including oilseeds and meal, sugar, rice
and fertilizer raw materials — there are signs of some revival
under way after weakness last year. This group is large, at
an estimated volume of around 260mt in 2009. Prospects
for fertilizer trades, over the year ahead, seem to have
During 2010 the world bulk carrier fleet is set to grow rapidly
again, and the Capesize group probably will see the fastest
expansion. As shown by table 2, growth in this sector could
be similar to last year’s remarkable 18% surge. Although
tanker conversions may diminish this year, Capesize
newbuilding deliveries will be much higher, partially offset
(perhaps) by more scrapping.