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Dry Bulk Futures at Multi Year Highs

The dry bulk market could be looking for at least two more quarters of solid performance, should the futures market prove to be correct. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal said that “following up on our insight on May 2021, where we discussed about the Capesize market outlook for the second half of the year, we are pleased to see that dry bulk Q4 high seasonality has returned after at least 3 years of underperformance, driving also the Q4’21 and Q1’22 FFA curve to multi year highs. Back in May, we had explained why we thought a higher Cape market peak during 2H2021 was in the cards, with fundamentals recently being boosted by accelerating restocking demand, near record high Capesize congestion at Pacific discharge ports and a global energy supply deficit leading to scrambling for coal supplies globally. In the present insight, we are briefly addressing some of the market points that are likely to impact the direction of freight rates looking forward”.

Source: Intermodal

According to Ms. Tamara Apostolou, Research Director with Intermodal, “the primary force behind the crude steel production decline in the short term is the severe coking coal /coke and power shortage forcing crude steel production to adjust downwards. Cuts are expected to intensify from November 15th to the end of the year as a 1st stage and then through March 2022, as per government’s pledges. Even if most of the targeted steel production cuts materializes through Sep-Dec 2021, probabilities that they will immediately translate into a decline in iron ore requirements are low, as 1) the iron ore restocking process is directly connected to iron ore seaborne supplies which are the strongest during Q4 – the decline in iron ore prices from multi year highs in May 2021 is currently facilitating the restocking process supporting the purchasing power of steel mills – steel mills margins remain strong due to the diverging trends in steel and iron ore prices, despite the surge in coking coal costs 2) Skyrocketing energy costs are likely to negatively impact more the scrap related steel production process during the quarter (Electric Arc Furnaces are higher energy consumers) vs Blast Furnaces (more iron ore requirements). When iron ore restocking will be completed, this will be a negative signal for new iron ore procurement, likely during the 1H2022. On this note, iron ore inventories at China’s ports have increased by +9.2 million tons since the end of Q2 and there is more room for them to inflate further by the end of the year”.

Ms. Apostolou added that “natural gas prices have raised the price ceiling higher for the whole energy complex and while international coal prices have hit record high levels, the price gap with natural gas continues to incentivize substitution in power generation globally and Europe particularly. The competition for securing coal supplies in both basins has inflated $ per ton freight across major coal routes to 12-year highs – which we think is sustainable – as the % of freight in coal prices is still low (approx. 13%) compared to 2009-2010 (approx. 22%)”.

Additionally, “China’s domestic coal output is expected to increase in the next months on a series of government measures to boost supplies, although the incremental volumes during Q4 are not expected to be sufficient to cover the supply deficit. The continuous decline in coal inventories at major power plants and expectations for a cold winter continue to indicate increasing thermal coal import needs for restocking in the winter heating season. Demand for coal imports is further enhanced by India’s urgency to restock as inventories at power plants have dropped to the lowest level since 2017 at 7.3 million tons but at a record low in terms of days of consumption i.e. just 4 days, as per latest data from India’s Central Electricity Authority”, said Ms. Apostolou.

Finally, “high bunker prices are supportive to dry bulk freight rates as we had discussed in our May insight, likely to exacerbate fleet inefficiencies across the basins, with the Atlantic expected to benefit more in the short term. Talks about demand destruction from high oil prices will be substantiated when manufacturers’ profitability and consumers’ purchasing power starts to be negatively impacted with costs curves rising upwards. This is likely to take place at higher prices than the current $80/bbl in our view and those would have to be sustained during the quarter”, Intermodal’s analyst concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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