The swift recovery from the pandemic in China has seen its dry bulk imports rise to their highest levels ever, boosted by infrastructure heavy stimulus and high grains demand, causing a spike in the appetite for many dry bulk imports which have reached their highest levels ever.
This is certainly true for iron ore, of which 471.8m tonnes (source: GACC) have been imported in the first five months of the year, a 26.5m tonne increase from the start of 2020. It is also 24.4m tonnes higher than the previous record for the first five months of the year which was set in 2019 when imports totalled 447.4m tonnes.
Although the strongest growth in exports from Asia derives from trades to North America, the Far East to North Europe trade has also experienced higher volumes. However, even more impressive are the freight rates on this route which have breached the USD 10,000 per FEU mark for the first time ever. In fact, they stand at USD 10,544 per FEU on 8 June 2021 (source: Xeneta) and are expected to rise even further when mid-month General Rate Increases (GRIs) are announced next week.
So far this year, average Far East to North Europe freight rates have averaged USD 8,224 per FEU, towering above the USD 1,489 – USD 2,187 per FEU that spot rates averaged on an annual basis between 2017 and 2020.
Moving south and back into dry bulk, one of Africa’s largest exports is bauxite, with Guinea alone accounting for more than half of global seaborne bauxite exports in 2020. These too have been record-high since the start of the year, reaching 29.2m tonnes in the first four months of the year, slightly up from the previous record set in the first four months of 2020 of 29.0m tonnes. So far this year, 258 journeys have been started in Guinea carrying bauxite, 141 of which are Capesize ships.
Across the South Atlantic, after a slow start to the year, Brazilian soya bean exports during April and May were the two strongest months on record. In both months, seaborne exports came in above 16.3m tonnes, compared to the previous record of 14.8m tonnes set in April 2020.
The slow start to the year means that the two months of record high imports has brought accumulated year-on-year growth in the first five months of the year up to “only” 5.3%, although at 48.1m tonnes, this is still the highest start to the year on record. Of these total exports, around 70% are sent to China, equivalent to 455 Panamax loads of 75,000 tonnes.
A record high soya bean export season can also be found in the US. When looking at this continent, one record cannot be ignored, as it is the primary driver behind the current highs of the container market.
North American container imports are up by 33.6% in the first four months of the year, reaching 10.9m TEU. This is the first time they have exceeded 10m TEU in the first third of the year. Accounting for almost 70% of total North American imports, imports from the Far East have grown by 45.0% from last year as consumer demand for goods made in the Far East has reached record highs, thanks to stay-at-home orders and government stimulus checks burning holes in consumers’ pockets.
The combination of record high container imports and US exports still struggling to reach pre-pandemic levels, the number of empty containers being sent on the backhaul transpacific trade is growing even faster than the already impressive growth in loaded imports.
Compared to the first four months of 2019, the US West Coast has exported 62.5% more empty containers than it did last year, with 2.9m boxes being loaded onto ships, the highest ever four-month period. This is 1.8 times more than the number of loaded containers being exported. These empty boxes are being returned to Asia as fast as they can, as Asian exporters wait for them to return so that the cycle can start again.
Unlike dry bulk and container shipping, tanker shipping made its money last year, and is still suffering the consequences of lower global oil demand. However, no trip around the shipping world is complete without tankers, and few and far between, some records can be found. In fact, back in China (the world’s largest crude oil importer) 2021 has been the strongest year for crude oil imports ever. In the first five months of this year, China imported 220.5m tonnes of crude oil (source: GACC), compared to 215.6m tonnes imported in 2020.
Although a record, the growth rate has slowed markedly from previous years when it was close to 10%. Instead, compared to the first five months of 2020, Chinese crude oil imports are up 2.3%, and as the year progresses, it is unlikely volumes will keep posting growth compared to 2020, due to the oil price war. Chinese imports of crude oil peaked in June and July 2020 above 50m tonnes per month, but volumes this year are unlikely to reach those levels.
Article shared by courtesy of BIMCO – the world’s largest international shipping association, with 1,900 members in 120 countries. Their global membership includes shipowners, operators, managers, brokers, and agents. To learn more, go for https://www.bimco.org/about-us-and-our-members.