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Why high coal inventory level is negative for dry bulk shipping firms

Thermal Coal Port Inventory 2013-07-11Enlarge GraphAn update to Thermal coal inventory at 1 year low, possible support for dry bulk rates

Inventory levels and shipping rates

Inventory levels for thermal coal at Chinese ports reflect the safety net that companies decide to hold, as well as the difference in expected and actual demand. When inventory falls to a specific amount, imports often rise as companies seek to replenish stock. Higher imports cause higher shipping rates (in Capesize and Panamax-sized ships in particular) which means higher revenues, earnings, and free cash flows for dry bulk shipping firms.

Port inventory at a year high, expect to peak out

According to Shanghai Steelhome Information, total inventory for thermal coal at Chinese ports stood at 29.93 million tons on Friday, July 5th. This is higher than the 29.69 million tons we saw on June 28th, which was an increase of ~1 million tons from the low of 19.3 million tons recorded on May 3rd. During this time of year, total inventory for thermal coal at Chinese ports tends to rise due to higher imports, which are driven by seasonality.

Demand for thermal coal often rises in March and July through August as people crank on their heaters or air conditioning to live more comfortably during the cold winter and hot summer. But as the weather becomes milder, demand for electricity falls, and so do imports of thermal coal. Last year, inventory peaked out around mid-June at 26 million tons. This year, the relative cheapness of imported coal to domestic coal has also added to higher thermal coal imports.

Near term positive, but downside emerging 

As seasonality comes to an end, shipping rates will be negatively affected. Lower thermal coal, which makes up at least 4% of total dry bulk shipping volume, will be a short-term negative for dry bulk shipping companies, such as DryShips Inc. (DRYS), Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX), Safe Bulkers Inc. (SB), Eagle Bulk Shipping Inc. (EGLE), and Navios Maritime Partners LP (NMM).

For the latest article on shipping rates, see Why have shipping rates topped, and will this affect dry bulk shipping stocks?

Investors should also visit our Marine Shipping Page for other drivers that affect shipping stocks.