Dry bulk shipping indicators, October 18 to 24

Part 7

Why steel prices could influence dry bulk shippers’ outlook

Domestic steel price near historic lows

Here’s an interesting chart. Domestic hot-rolled steel price in China currently sits at 3,482 renminbi per metric tonne (or mt). About seven weeks ago, steel prices stood at ~3,650 renminbi per metric tonne. The decline in steel price reflects a looser supply-to-demand balance. Either supply grew more than demand, or demand weakened. If we follow steel price through the last ten years, it has bottomed near 3,400 renminbi per mt.
China Domestic Hot Rolled Steel Spot Average Price 2013-10-24Enlarge Graph

Commodity prices, economic activity, and shipping rates

Commodity prices generally move together with economic activity and shipping rates. When prices for materials such as steel, iron ore, coal, oil, and copper rise, it’s often due to higher growth in demand than supply. This also means higher shipments, which have a positive effect on shipping rates. So, when commodity prices are rising, it’s often an indication that shipping firms’ fundamentals will benefit from higher rates. On the contrary, when prices fall, they often spell a negative for dry bulk shippers. This isn’t always true, of course, which we explained in articles related to iron ore prices.

Steel industry is important to the government

Because the steel industry is rather important to China’s industrial sector and employment growth, a price of 3,400 renminbi may be the minimum that the industry is trying to support. If prices do fall below this figure, it would likely mean poor economic growth. Surely, the government doesn’t want this to happen if it can avoid it, or it will have to face layoffs as steel plants cut production. This could lead to social unrest. This happened in November 2005, October 2008, and September 2012.

What does this mean for dry bulks?

This means if the government or central bank’s power isn’t constrained, it will likely support infrastructure development and steel demand over the medium to long term. This would be positive for dry bulk shippers like DryShips Inc. (DRYS), Navios Maritime Holdings Inc. (NM), Safe Bulkers Inc. (SB), and Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX). The Guggenheim Shipping ETF (SEA) will also benefit from this. If steel prices do rise sharply to 4,000 renminbi per metric tonne, it could mean that demand for steel is so strong that it would also help commodity and ship demand.

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