European steelmakers say they are concerned that the European Commission may soon suspend duties on certain steel products in the same way that it has with proposed to do with Chinese flat-rolled aluminium. The commission recently released a proposal to suspend duties on Chinese aluminium for a limited nine-month period. China has returned to being a net importer of aluminium products (instead of a world-leading exporter) due to the impact of environmental regulations on the production of the metal. European steel mills say they now are concerned that similar measures will be made for steel products, which would allow increased imports of Chinese steel products, particularly those that have been in relatively short supply across the European Union in recent months. As domestic European demand for steel resurged this year, steel prices have simultaneously climbed to multi-year highs. A part of the commission’s logic for reducing duties is to ease the shortage of steel products across the EU, making manufacturing and construction operations easier for European industry at large.
Golden Ocean has announced its next steps in fleet renewal with an order for three 85,000 dwt Kamsarmaxes to be built at a Chinese yard and delivered between Q3-2023 and Q1-2024. The vessels are said to be equipped to sail with two different fuel types, thus improving flexibility and fuel efficiency as well as curbing emissions compared to traditional ships.
A typical Monday is marked by a lack of momentum, where dithering prevails. Attempts to cover ECSA stems by taking tonnage in the East are still happening with tonnage now being taken at US$ 33,500 daily. For October, Black Sea grain charterers are facing numbers of US$ 37,000 daily basis Singapore delivery. Rates off the Continent for Supramaxes have dropped to around US$ 34,000 daily for a trip to the Med with scrap and low US$ 30,000s daily for trips to ECSA. Handysizes are said to be about the same. Handysizes appear to be owners’ cash cows anyway.
Euro wheat crop predictions continue to be downgraded amid changing weather patterns. Wheat produced in France, Europe’s biggest producer, is now expected to decline to 34.93Mt in the 2021-22 marketing year, according to Agritel, which lowered its prior forecast by some 3 Mt. The agricultural consultant says that persistent and unfavourably wet weather in late summer has threatened to curb output for the current marketing year. While this would still exceed the previous year’s output of 29.2 Mt, it lies under the ten-year average for French wheat.
With rates breaking new records, it stands to reason that congestion levels would be at records as well. Indeed, some 16% of the world’s bulk carrier fleet is currently being held up by port queues, according to estimates by Braemar. The broker says bulker queues hit a record 142m dwt at the weekend with China accounting for about a third (52.7m dwt or 6% of the bulker fleet). These levels are 28% higher than a month ago and 23% higher than a year ago. Capesize freights keep climbing, albeit at a slower pace of circa US$ 1,000 day-on-day with TARVs finally hitting US$ 50,000 daily, as expected. Front haul rates are rising by leaps and bounds with high US$ 70,000s of up to US$ 77-78,000 daily expected by midweek.
Atlantic Panamax tonnage is said to be especially hard to come by at the moment, according to several brokers working on the trans-Atlantic trades, with low US$ 30,000s (on TARV rates) moving to the middle-high US$ 30,000s in a few days. Front hauls passed US$ 50,000 on 82,000 dwt ships for the first time in ages while the same rates are only about US$ 500 away for the standard 74-78,000 dwt vessels as well. Indonesia rounds have climbed to US$ 33,000.
Long-time stock market-lister Eagle Bulk Shipping [EGLE] is reporting a record profit for the second quarter of the year with any EBITDA of US$ 62.7m in Q2-2021, dwarfing the US$ 9.7m secured in the same quarter of 2020. According to Eagle’s newly published earnings report, total revenue rose to US$ 129.8m in the quarter—up from US$ 57.3m a year before—with profit of US$ 9.2m for Q2 vs. a loss of US$ 20.4m in Q2-2020. The bulker company says that it has already fixed 75% of its open ship days for Q3-2021 at TCE rates in excess of US$ 28,000 daily. CEO Gary Vogel said Eagle maintains an “optimistic outlook” for market developments in the rest of the year.
On a typical Monday when all players are positioning their “guns” for the battle ahead of the week, news has been limited. Off the Continent, Handysize owners appear relaxed with an excellent choice of cargo proposals that should lead to higher than last-done numbers. The owners of a 34,000 dwt have been seeing US$ 31,000 daily for a 15-20 day local employment. The rates proposed in general for several Atlantic destinations have been hovering at US$ 30,000 daily anyway. A 56,000 dwt was fixed for a 15-day RV at US$ 34,000 daily. Supramax rates to South Africa are hovering in the low US$ 40,000s. From the Black Sea, a Supramax was rumoured fixed at US$ 48,000 daily for a trip via East Africa and redelivery Durban. This is about US$ 8,000 daily better than done early last week. Clinker charterers have taken a 63,000 dwt ship from the Black Sea to West Africa at US$ 48,000 daily. But a rate of US$ 47,000 daily on a 57,000 dwt vessel with clinker to similar destination is not bad either, is it? Fertilizer charterers last week took a 38,000 dwt for a cargo from Black Sea to Brazil at the equivalent of US$ 36,000 daily.
After posting several consecutive days of improved freight levels in the final days of July, Capesize rates take yet another breather at the start of August with rates either flat-lining or reversing slightly. Only the Pacific RV, ever volatile, takes a notable loss, down some US$ 1,000 to US$ 44,000 daily, nonetheless no major loss for a route that has the capacity to rise by as much as US$ 5,000 in a single day. Brazil/UKC voyages have stabilized at around US$ 13/mt while Brazil/China is holding steady at US$ 28-29/mt.
Listed bulk carrier companies have seen share prices bounce back in recent days (thanks to a modest rebound in dry bulk freight rates) after declining for the first two weeks of July. Year-to-date (YTD) share prices remain at historically high levels even after fading slightly from their late-June peak. Interestingly, the top performer this year has been a bulker-based fund, the Breakwave Dry Bulk Shipping ETF [BDRY], up by 239% YTD at US$ 26.10 per share, presently. Actual bulk carrier shares, meanwhile, are up by an average of about 150% YTD with Safe Bulkers [SB] leading the pack at US$ 3.40 per share with YTD gains of 162%. Eagle Bulk [EGLE] boasts the higher share price at the moment with US$ 42.34, up 123% YTD.
After two years of preparation, the European Commission last week finally released its proposal for guiding shipping in the green transition with the goals of 2050 in mind. This, say environmental analysts, is the first extensive legislative blueprint for the role of shipping in the green transition and helping to transform the world economy into a sustainable one that relies on sustainable fuels rather than fossil fuels. As part of the European climate accord, the proposal is aimed at fighting global climate change by curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the guidelines provided by the European Commission. Among the defined targets, the EU intends to reach a 55% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and a climate-neutral European economy by 2050. Because of the 55% reduction aim, the climate package has been called “Fit for 55”. Broadly speaking, the proposal is built on two columns requiring that (1) shipping be incorporated into the EU’s carbon quota trading system called the Emissions Trading System (ETS) which includes a carbon cap on emissions and assigns a price to emitting environmentally dangerous gases and (2) shipping be required to transition from fossil fuels to sustainable fuels over the coming years.
The low number of fixtures reported is self-explanatory. The deadlocked situation is the market’s latest variant. The charterers currently feel less inclined than the owners to move. If the shipowners are invited to make a move, they often come up with ridiculous numbers for fear that a more reasonable number would be quickly outdated. Fertilizer brokers report about their clients’ traders complaining about the higher than calculated fixtures done by their shipping department. There is no marketplace where owners are facing losses, unheard of in the last decade. From the Red Sea, the owners of a 35,000 dwt were seeing US$ 25,000 for 4-6 months of trading, whilst talking US$ 34,000 daily.
Even if daily gains have arguably eased from their gigantic US$ 5,000 improvements of days past, the Capesize freights remain very well positioned for the week ahead as charterers consent to all but the most absurdly increased premiums on long hauls. Front hauls are just below US$ 50,000 on modern tonnage with owners set to move that market before the week is through. Brazil/China voyage business is benefiting from the bulls, now at circa US$ 26.5/mt. Sentiment remains strongly on the side of Panamax owners, though some charterers are heard to be putting up more resistance now than they were a week ago. Nonetheless, rates are widely ascendant with scarcely a down-note to be heard on the spot market. TARV rates are still flying to new highs day-by-day with US$ 30,000 likely to be reached on Kamsarmax tonnage by midweek (considering rate trends). Pac rounds are also trading just below US$ 30,000 with some owners already professing to see that level.
Production forecasts were raised by the European Commission for common wheat output in the 27-member bloc of EU countries for the 2021-22 season to 126.2 Mt (from last month’s forecast of 124.8 Mt) or 6.5% higher than the crop of 117.2 Mt registered in the prior season. Forecasts for EU exports of common wheat (soft wheat) were unchanged for the 2021-22 season at 30 Mt (versus 27 Mt exported in the previous season). Predictions for overall wheat stocks were downgraded to 10.8 Mt (from 11.4 Mt) due to increased expectations for use in animal feed.
With holidays in many countries it has been a quiet start to the week. Nevertheless, mesmerizing news and events keep emerging. There have been rumours of operators unwilling to perform last year booked cargoes for the obviously financial reasons. (They seem to lack the resources to cover the difference….) Looking at the Eastern market, head-spinning fixtures have come to light. A 36,000 dwt vessel was taken from CIS for 2-4 months of trading at US$ 32,500 daily with worldwide redelivery. A fertilizer-friendly 32,000 dwt ship was taken from China for an Australian round voyage at US$ 30,000 daily. Another 38,000 dwt ship found a taker at US$ 20,500 daily for 12 months of trading. Yet another remarkable fixture on 38,000 dwt ship has been rumoured done at US$ 25,000 daily for a trip from Japan via Indonesia to Japan. Owners of a 37,000 dwt were not surprised seeing US$ 32,000 daily for their vessel for a trip from Japan to Singapore area.
Oslo-listed dry bulk operator 2020 Bulkers recently released their first quarter numbers, showing that the company has performed notably better than a year before with total revenue of US$ 17m for Q1-2021 (compared to US$ 7.8m in Q1-2020). Operating profit over the same quarter amounted to US$ 8.2m (versus US$ 2.5m a year before) while net profit was US$ 5.8m. The Bermuda-registered company currently operates a fleet of eight Newcastlemax bulk carriers. Average TCE earnings in Q1 of this year were US$ 23,900 daily, says 2020 Bulkers, while the average for Q2 so far has climbed to US$ 33,700 daily. This week, owners Tor Olav Trøim and Ubon Partners sold over 14% of company shares on the Oslo Stock Exchange for US$ 36m, leaving Trøim with just under 25% of company ownership.
The Capesize roll is undeniable with long hauls and voyage rates alike moving from high to high as charterers prove more than willing to pay up for guaranteed tonnage. With front hauls in the mid US$ 60,000s now it has started to look like an entirely different market than owners had become used to in the last decade, but there remains plenty of healthy scepticism about the sustainability of this recovery. South American cargoes and buoyant sentiment are keeping Panamax rates aloft, if not flying, with solid upgrades on a daily basis taking TARVs to just under US$ 20,000 daily on 82,000 dwt tonnage. Eastern-based demand has been especially lively in recent days with new activity particular evident around Australia and SE Asia. Indo rounds are flying high with US$ 28,000s achieved on S.China delivery. A lack of steady enough demand in the Atlantic basin has given charterers an opportunity to push Supramax rates back down across most of the major routes—though some were quick to blame the upcoming UK and Asian holidays for the downturn. Black Sea front hauls have reversed back toward a flat US$ 30,000 daily on the 58,000 dwt assessment.
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Many brokers are looking forward to a very likely mesmerizing new week. Expectations are running high, after the Atlantic market changed course towards the end of last week. The bullish Kamsarmax market is supporting the smaller Ultramax tonnage, which many charterers are trying to switch to, if possible. Grain charterers are in lose talks with Ultra owners, indicating their interest at US$ 27-28,000 for a front haul ex-Continent, for which last week Kamsarmax tonnage was covered at US$ 36,000. Handysize rates are recovering with fertilizer charterers rating a 36,000 dwt at US$ 14,500 daily for a trip to ECSA, which is up around US$2,000 daily on last-done. Charterers’ appetite in period tonnage remains unbroken.
The Easter holidays have dinged cargo demand in the North Sea and Baltic Sea trades, although not as seriously as they might have in years past. All things considered, even with the slowing around the long holiday weekend, freights and sentiment have been rather steady with even some routes showing minor gains over last-done. On the whole, however, freight levels are cruising sideways at last-done with charterers content to meet owners at their recently-won highs with owners themselves having less success in getting anything higher now than they were getting in March.
The last day of the first quarter of 2021 brings mixed tidings for the Capesizes with declines having continued to ease from recent sharpness and owners starting to feel better about Q2 prospects after enjoying a (mostly) fruitful Q1. Indeed, owners may have become spoiled, if just barely, after seeing rates keep rising for weeks on end. But still at recent historical highs, Cape freight rates will need to reach a bottom soon (as they are already suggesting) if they want to maintain these highs. Front hauls are already moving in a positive direction with US$ 32,500 at last-done.
Ultramax tonnage was taken for a NoPac round voyage at US$ 26,000 daily. Another one was concluded for 12 months of trading at around US$ 21,500 daily. It is highly unlikely that owners of a 23,000 dwt open in P.I. needed to be persuaded for doing a trip to WC India at just below US$ 20,000 daily, where they can expect rates of around US$ 35-40,000 daily for a trip back to China. From EC India, a couple of Ultramaxes got fixed at US$ 40,000 daily to China. The PG is another hot spot, with a 56,000 dwt taken from Oman via PG to EC India at the same fabulous US$ 40,000 daily. And the rate of US$ 18,000 daily done on an Ultra from Japan via NoPac to the ECSA must be considered as a good choice by the owners.
Sustained limitations in global availability continue to support potash prices around the world. One major producer was reportedly making plans to increase price offers in its European markets by as much as EUR 15/mt beginning in the second quarter. MOP prices have stabilized at around EUR 235-245/mt CIF with average prices trending toward the higher end of this range. Premiums for granular MOP over standard potash grades are said to be widening as well across the UKC-Med fertilizer markets. Potash prices are rising in concert globally with price support especially strong in the US, Brazil and Southeast Asia. Granular MOP from NW Europe (spot) has remained at an average of EUR 240/mt CIF in the second week of March while the price range for USG-based prices has moved from US$ 300-308/ mt FOB to US$ 315-325/mt FOB over the same week. Average US barge prices rose by US$ 13/mt in the first week of March to reach their highest level in five years. A similar spirit of buoyancy is expected to drive prices upward on European markets going into the second quarter of 2021, though the sustainability of the uptick remains hard to assess as demand is only running slightly ahead of supply at present.
Bulker freights have entered another phase of revival, much to the approval of the ownership class, with the BDI nearing a two-month high point and sentiment again at the backs of the tonnage side of the chartering equation. Capesize rates remain tilted toward the eastern hemisphere with major gains seen in front haul trips (ex-ECSA and USG) and, especially, inter-Pacific RVs, even if the same have levelled out in the high teens of just over US$ 19,000 daily. Trans-Atlantic RVs are getting into the swing of things as well, however, with TARVs poised to hit US$ 16,000 on 180,000 dwt ships by midweek.
Fundamentals continue to greatly favour owners of tonnage in the northern trades at the moment—indeed the European coaster market at large. Baltic and North Sea-based ships are fetching steadily rising offers and, note brokers, positions are extending to as much as two weeks ahead instead of the usual prompt business that the market has become accustomed to in recent years. A degree of conclusion on Brexit, brokers say, has given UK traders more confidence about forward positions. Charterers are finding it more challenging to get tonnage when they want it. Freights are rising across the board. Westward rates with fertilizers and grains from the Baltic States to ARAG have surged from high EUR 20s/mt into the low EUR 30/mt in little more than a week’s time to approach upwards of EUR 33-35/mt.
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Quo vadis, market? To throttle the climbing speed to new heights in rate levels is badly needed! This said, grain traders are pointing to the upcoming season in ECSA, wherefore many trading houses keep hedging themselves by booking fairly regularly Kamsarmax tonnage in the East, at now beyond US$ 20,000 daily. Thus it cannot be ruled out that there will be no throttle, but the market certainly will reach a ceiling, which to predict does not appear possible right now. Grain traders seem to believe in a strong, for them unpalatable market. For April shipment they have seen number of around US$ 40/mt for 25000/10 wheat from Black Sea, or US$ 20-22,000 daily from owners, which they consider realistic.
Breathing a collective sigh of relief, Capesize owners see their freights begin the week on a widely positive note (as presaged near the end of last week) with notable gains on the trans-Pacific round voyage in particular. Pacific RV rates on time charter basis rose by some US$ 500 day-on-day over the first session of the week to near low US$ 7,000s on 180,000 dwt ships. Front haul rates are also looking to make a positive reversal with US$ 26,000s moving toward US$ 27,000s. TARVs are hovering at US$ 15,000.
The chartering market has been quiet all over the place, which is also reflected in the number of fixtures reported. Off the Continent, an LME was fixed for a Murmansk round voyage at US$ 19,000 daily with redelivery ARA. Grain charterers took a 33,000 dwt North Spain for a trip via Rouen to Algeria at US$ 16,000 daily, which equates to around US$ 25-26/mt. There are charterers hoping to find tonnage at US$ 22.0-22.5/mt later this month, and which at this very moment this seems to be more of a pious hope than reality. Rostock to Casablanca business has been secured for 30,000mt at the equivalent of US$ 15,000 daily basis Rotterdam. As far as Supra-Ultras are concerned brokers have been seeing a limited number ships with any prospects of better rates.
With the week concluding on a pair of consecutive losses, it would appear that a freight reversal for the Capesizes was more than a flash in the pan. And with losses looking sharper than in the last round of corrections, it would also seem that owners have more to be worried about. Nonetheless, the fact that rates are still trading at relatively high levels bodes well for near term success of the biggest bulkers.
Atlantic grain flows are keeping Panamax owners in demand, if only just enough to keep rates moving steadily in the upward direction. But steady progress is arguably better than explosive gains in the bulker game, so owners are happy to see their sector getting consistent inquiry for once. South America remains the main driver with rounds from the Far East via ECSA and back fetching DOP rates within the US$ 14-15,000 daily range with the lower US$ 14,000s more likely on the standard 76,000 dwt ships and higher US$ 14,000s on the 82,000 dwt moderns.
Export prices for Russian wheat keep rising ahead of the wheat export tax expected to coming into force on 15 February (and stay in place until end-June). Wheat of 12.5% protein content loading from Black Sea ports for late-January loading is currently trading at around US$ 275/mt FOB, according to consultancies IKAR and Refinitiv, some US$ 13-18/mt higher than late December 2020. As long as demand stays robust, analysts expect to see prices remain buoyant until at least the end of the month.
With mineral cargo congestion in the Pacific and a sudden lack of open tonnage across much of the Capesize market, spot freight levels for the biggest bulkers have been rising by leaps and bounds to the extent that market observers can scarcely take an accurate reading for having to throw it out one hour later. All long haul rates are on fire, but the front haul is leading the pack with another US$ 4-5,000 jump on Tuesday to take the assessment into range of US$ 45,000 daily on 180,000 dwt tonnage. Pacific RV time charters, meanwhile, are hitting mid-high US$ 20,000s with US$ 27-28,000 (or more) very likely by week’s end, if not even US$ 30,000 daily (given current trends). Shipowners are doing their best to lock in the best rates they can get as it seems unlikely for the boom times to be sustained into late January.
Reviewing the first day of the new year, one cannot but observe that the December momentum has been seamlessly transmitted into the new year. As repeatedly mentioned earlier, the lively interest in period tonnage remains a case in point. Capesizes have been taken for 24 months in the low US$ 15,000s daily and around US$ 14,500 daily for 12 months of trading. LME tonnage has been traded in the low US$ 10,000s for 12 months with delivery in the East. Ultramax tonnage has been rated by charterers for 6-9 months of trading at around US$ 11,500 with worldwide redel. Charterers seem to have more faith in the future and are ready for longer term commitments and higher freights. Kamsarmax owners have achieved around US$ 23,000 daily for a Baltic RV.