Countering recent, if modest, declines in day-to-day spot rates, Capesize owners are relatively confident that May will represent a return in demand and rate growth. The past week for Capes was, in fact, largely positive with the BCI up by 16% week-on-week and prospects still widely positive for the biggest bulkers going deeper into the second quarter of the year. Inter-Pacific demand has been fairly lively in recent days as mineral demand returns to some degree. Pacific RVs are holding steady at about US$ 12/mt.
Shipping equities have performed surprisingly well in 2022 thus far, notes Clarksons in a recent market update, with average gains of 2-3% over the Easter holidays alone as well as 26% for all shipping sectors across the board year-to-date. Stock prices for tankers and bulkers have enjoyed a particularly sharp rise over the year so far with average gains of 41% YTD. The bulker and tanker operator Norden has recently initiated a new foray into second-generation biofuel burning derived from recycled cooking oil. Company head of Climate Solutions, Adam Nielson, says that Norden intends for at least 50 of its 500 vessels to be running on biofuel within the next five years. Shipping stocks have seen steady gains this year, as mentioned above, with some listed bulker shares up by more than 50% in the year thus far. Eagle Bulk [EGLE], for instance, is up by 55.7% since the year began to trade at US$ 55.3 per share. Golden Ocean [GOGL] has climbed 50.1% YTD to US$ 11.5. For exclusive news and updates about dry bulk shipbroking, subscribe to the BMTI Daily Report.
After slowing with the onset of war in the last week of February, Russian wheat exports surged in March as the country moved to accelerate shipments to traditional buyers including Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Libya. Agricultural consultancy SovEcon said that Russian wheat shipments were leaving ports at a rapid pace in the second half of March with rerouting and payment considerations having been mostly resolved. Some of those shipments, market observers noted, went to countries that traditionally buy from Ukraine. Russia exported around 1.7 Mt of wheat in March, about 60% more than what was exported in March of 2021 (1.1 Mt), according to ProZerno, though for historical context last March also saw Russia’s grain exports fall to below average levels due to newly introduced export taxes.
Very little has come to pass to slow the decline of Capesize freights as they continue to slide going into the final week of March and the first quarter of the year. Revived South American demand that has buoyed the Panamaxes so noticeably seems to have bypassed Capes for the moment as trans-Atlantic RV rates keep falling by more than US$ 1,000 day-on-day to hit the US$ 10-11,000 daily and quite likely enter the four-digit realm of the US$ 9,000s by midweek (brokers surmise). Front hauls are falling by a similar margin to trade in the high US$ 20,000s.
Chilean-owned bulk carrier company Ultrabulk saw revenues double in 2021 compared to the year before, according to its newest financial report, with US$ 1.8 billion for last year’s total revenues (versus US$ 0.9 billion in 2020). After-tax results amounted to US$ 75m in 2021 compared to a deficit of US$ 16m in 2020. The Copenhagen-headquartered firm is one of the world’s largest bulker owners with a fleet of 179 vessels. Ultramax predicts its results for this year will land somewhere in the US$ 40-80m range thanks to ongoing “momentum” from last year and “strong operations” continuing into this year.
New supply contracts for potash secured in India and China have had ripple effects across the entire global potash market. The new import contracts, agreed at around US$ 590/mt CFR in both nations, represented a more than doubling of the previous contract agreements and essentially lifted the lower end of the price range for potash trading around the world. The lower limit for MOP netbacks (profit minus all supply costs) on Jordan-Israel trades, for instance, jumped by more than US$ 300/mt on the news to reach US$ 510-550/mt. Baltic Sea-based standard MOP netbacks rocketed to the range of US$ 520-560/mt (EUR 460-495/mt) FOB from a prior range of US$ 190-560/mt FOB. European potash demand itself, however, has remained static over the past week with granular spot prices stable with CIF prices (basis NW Europe) at EUR 570-600/mt.
The chartering market is living up to earlier and repeatedly expressed expectations, i.e. staging a buoyant comeback by the end of February and/or early March, which proved to be conservative in hindsight—it happened, in fact, two weeks earlier. Alas, the Continent is lagging behind although owners feel encouraged to start quoting higher rates, which has less to do with the rise in the number of cargoes, than of a change in perception. The owners of a 34,000 dwt want US$ 15,000 daily for a trip to Brazil, which number they had not dared quoting last week. A 50,000 dwt vessel was rated by charterers at US$ 15,000 daily for a trip to the Med. The Black Sea also looks moderately better. Clinker charterers are facing stronger numbers with an Ultramax covered at US$ 23,000 daily from the eastern Mediterranean to West Africa.
Unlike the Capesizes, which seem to have lost the majority of their 2021 gains in the final two months of the year, Panamax freights end the year still considerably higher than where they started it. The Panamax index closes the year at around 2,500 versus the sub-1,500 level at which it began 12 months prior. Indeed, it is still a notable decline from the over 4,000 level reached in October (the highest in several years), but it is nonetheless the sign of a strong fundamental market and one that is already recovering in the final weeks of the year thanks to renewed demand for Atlantic grain. Pacific redelivery demand for Atlantic grain was, in fact, what got the fire started for Panamaxes early in the year as the reduced import volumes from 2020 left a serious gap in food stocks across the eastern basin. Renewed import demand in the first half of the year saw China’s soybean imports jump by 16.8% YoY in the year through April.
After showing signs of easing at the weekend, daily declines appear to have resumed and increased in intensity at midweek among the Capesize trades with Pacific RV rates taking a hefty loss of US$ 4-5,000 on average rates (taking the assessment to US$ 28,000 daily). This is quite the drop from the golden days of late Q3 as owners now struggle to keep freights anywhere close to last-done. TARV rates are also under increased pressure as US$ 3,000 day-on-day losses take the level to US$33,000 daily.
Next week (17 Nov), the European Commission is set to publish the first draft of the EU waste shipment regulations (WSR) review. The draft is widely expected to contain a ban, in some form, on scrap exports, both ferrous and non-ferrous. Observers expect the bans to be a total ban on exports to non-EU countries and/or a ban on exports to non-OECD countries that do not meet the EU’s current waste processing requirements. According to the most recent statistics (2019), the EU exported about 13% of its total scrap supply to non-EU buyers (or 14.5 Mt) of steel scrap. This volume, assuming a ban is implemented, would then be sold to buyers inside the EU instead. Should the ban, instead, be done on exports to non-OECD countries not complying with EU waste standards, this would affect about 3-4 Mt of scrap that currently goes to Egypt, India, Pakistan, China and a handful of other Asia-Pacific countries.
German bank Berenberg plans to expand its debt fund portfolio with two new multi-investor funds. The funds allow investments in ship mortgage loans starting at the “mid-single-digit million” amounts.
Wilson of Norway has joined forces with Rhenus Maritime Services of Germany to grow its market share in the European short sea market. Wilson plans to buy six cargo vessels and lease a few other vessels with Rhenus assisting in the acquisition. Scheduled to be completed by early 2022, the deal would bring the Wilson fleet to over 130 ships.
DNB shipping head, Christos Tsakonas, this week warned that lenders in the current upturn must learn from mistakes of the past and make sure that, “financing is based on cash flow, not just asset values.”
The chartering world remains a mixed bag of news, albeit one that continues to enrich the owners at any rate. Off the Continent, scrap charterers took a 56,000 dwt at US$ 35,000 daily to the East Med, which fixture is dwarfed by the fixture of a 35,000 dwt at US$ 36,500 to a similar destination WCSA charterers took a 58,000 dwt in the low US$ 40,000 daily for a trip via WCSA and redelivery Cristóbal. From the Black Sea, grain charterers are struggling to cover Handysize cargoes with tonnage tight and rates up. For Nikolayev to Tunisia there has been tonnage concluded at a rate of US$ 62/mt. Even for a 30,000mt grain cargo from less expensive Black Sea ports to the Egyptian Med, rates are somewhat in the US$ 50/mt range. Lau Lau managed to replace a vessel running late with a similar size vessel at US$ 60,500 daily for a trip to the East. Lucky them!
Following their slowing momentum at the end of last week with a renewed bout of energy at the start of this week, Capesize freights continue to surprise with the back haul assessment being the unlikely recipient of the biggest day-on-day improvement of any freight as the new week begins. Back haul trips seem to have jumped from the middle to high US$ 30,000s of more than US$ 39,000 over the weekend alone. Pacific round voyages, meanwhile, return to their old tricks with a US$ 2,000 day-on-day improvement taking them back to US$ 69-70,000.
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.