Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dry bulk shipping boom

With the Baltic Exchange Dry Index (BDI) still up near its recent highs above the 10,000 mark, many are wondering if the shipping boom driven by Asian demand will hold.

The Financial Times recently took up this issue by highlighting the view of one shipping executive, Nobu Su, chief of Taiwan Maritime Transport, who offered that current freight shipping rates were "insane".

Here's more from FT's article, "Dry bulk bubble may have bouyancy to spare".

Nobu Su's outspoken comments about the bulk cargo market shine a spotlight on a remarkable piece of price inflation that has been little noticed outside the closed world of shipping.

On Friday, the Baltic Exchange, which collects information about shipping markets, was quoting the standard charter rate for a Capesize dry bulk carrier - the largest kind, so called because it has to sail around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope rather than use the Panama or Suez Canals - at $179,527 per day.

The same rate a year ago was $69,235. The increase is pushing up sharply the costs of many users of the vital commodities that such ships carry - particularly coal and iron ore.

For some commodities, according to Mr Su, the cost of transport can be twice as much as the cost of the cargo when it was delivered to the ship.

So as you see from that last statement, transport costs for in demand commodities have become remarkably expensive.

You don't have to know your Panamax from your Capesize to be able to understand this last point. Just imagine shipping a gift package to a friend by postal service or Fed Ex, only the shipping cost is twice what you spent on the gift.

In that case, you might say "to hell with that, I'll send a card". But in China or India's case, there has been little option but to pay the required rates for much needed commodities.

Will freight costs peak in 2008 or will they retrench a bit, only to keep on rolling? This is a big point of debate, as the shorter-term future of the global economy seems to be wrapped up in this question.

One last point to mention here: notice the chart of the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) vs. the Shanghai Composite (FXI). Is there a strong correlation here?

It seems, judging from this rather short time period, that there has recently been an observable link between the two, with FXI possibly leading the BDI by a couple of months. Thoughts?