As the Baltic Dry Index (a global shipping “price” mechanism) scuffles back to early May levels despite a “recovering global economy,” one must ask what are the drivers? We were raising the question nearly a month ago [Aug 7, 2009: Baltic Dry Index has Worst Week Since October 2008 - Blame China. Prescursor to Slowing Loan Growth?], but as always with the stock market, news does not matter until it matters – hence the cheap headlines of “US markets down on China” are comical, considering the Chinese market has been down many days this month and it did not matter all those days. But suddenly it matters today.
China has simply been the world’s driver of all things trade this year – especially of the commodity sort. When the Baltic Dry Index started rallying early this year, we were asking what was the real cause? [Feb 9, 2009: China and the Baltic Dry Index - What's Really Going On?] We opined it was the Alan Greenspan / Ben Bernanke effect on steroids [Feb 16 2009: Is China Pulling an Alan Greenspan?] and in retrospect we appear to have been dead right. When China turned on the spigots, commodities and asset values began to fly higher. The “markets” saw these moves up and attached them to organic recovery signals. Pundits climbed on, and green shoots were shot out from cannons.
If I can be blunt, it really just looks like a major headfake – central banks have been pushing money into the atmosphere and it is going to help out a relatively small band of speculators in most countries [Jun 29, 2009: China Business News - $170B of Bank Loans Funneled into Stock Market] – really very little different than when Greenspan flooded the world with US pesos after the Asian currency crisis in 1998 and before Y2K at the turn of the century. We saw how that turned out (NASDAQ 1999-2002) But until the party ends (see real estate America 2004-2007) no one will ask questions.
Since the market works on its own reality, we have rallied constantly on green shoots – and we own a few things (such as a housing stock) not on belief in real recovery, but on the market’s belief of perception of a real recovery. Or government’s flooding the world with money that artificially create short term recovery. Which goes to the larger point newer investors need to learn – the market is not about reality, it is about the perception of reality… at least in the short to intermediate term.
Does it matter if housing falls into a tailspin (which it will if the $8000 handout to 1st time homebuyers doesnt turn into a $15,000 handout for everyone this winter)? Not in the near term. Does it matter if much of the surge in copper, oil, and other said commodities is nothing more than China stockpiling? Not for those who made money on those rallies. Obviously with central bankers across the world working overtime, the old “signals” we used to use are very difficult to use anymore because basic supply and demand issues of more and more paper currencies chasing fixed supplies of “stuff” has bastardized price mechanisms. What is real, and what is Memorex is very difficult to ascertain.
Which brings us back to the shipping index – all I know at this point is whenever China wants to buy things – prices surge and the Baltic Dry Index goes with it. When they turn off the hose – the BDI goes flaccid. What people are now using as a proxy on global trade really has become China’s personal plaything. But that won’t be how it is couched in the mainstream.
If you really believe the world economies have turned healthier the past 3 months, you have to look in the mirror and ask why Baltic Dry Index is back down to first half May 2009 levels. Remember almost every country has based their recovery on exporting their way out of this mess (excluding China, which is trying to get its consumers to act like Americans) So how do all the world’s major countries export their way to prosperity … and the BDI act like what we see above?
Will it just be too convenient to only use the Baltic Dry Index as a signal when its going in the “right” direction, and ignore it when it’s not supporting your case, dear pundit? Based on “hey China does not matter” talk I am hearing now (laughable), surely the pundits are back to their old ways already. But let’s remember the reality the next time the BDI starts to rally, because while infotainment financial TeeVee is brushing the BDI weakness under the rug, let it be known the minute it turns back up it will be headline news. And we’ll know that is simply means China has decided to show up again incrementally making purchases in the commodities market.
Aside from China’s hand on the spigot the other (longer term) main issue facing shipping rates is potential supply of new ships. It is a complicated issue because older ships to transport coal, iron ore, fertilizer and the like are being retired while new ones are coming to take their place. There seems to be more supply than needed coming online – but then again, with the wonderful recovery we are about to enjoy, in theory we would “need” them. Ahem. Bloomberg has a piece on this subject below that is worth highlighting.
Our only position in this sector is Excel Maritime Carriers (EXM) which we’ve been patiently sitting with a placeholder position waiting for a gap in the lower $6s to fill. Why have I not been shorting it considering the very obvious gap? Scary sector to short when these stocks can move 10-15% in the drop of a hat. Why do I even bother with a long position in this sector? The same reason I own a housing stock when 18 million homes sit empty in America…. Kool Aid ingestion by stock market investors aka fundamentals mean little when ‘perception’ is everything.
Just as global trade starts to recover, the shipping market is crashing for the second time in a year as China reduces raw-material imports and record numbers of new vessels set sail.
The rate for leasing capesize ships, boats three times the size of the Statue of Liberty, will drop about 50 percent from the current price of $37,865 a day to as low as $18,000 before the end of the year, according to the median in a Bloomberg survey of six analysts and fund managers. Forward freight agreements traded by brokers show the fourth-quarter average price will be 7 percent lower.
Shipping rates, which already fell 59 percent from this year’s high, are retreating as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts a 16 percent drop in world trade for all of 2009.
A record 146 capesizes will be added this year, equal to 28 percent of the fleet, according to Fearnley Consultants A/S. “The pressure of the new ships will be overwhelming,” said Andreas Vergottis, the Hong Kong-based research director at Tufton Oceanic Ltd., which manages the world’s largest shipping hedge fund, with $1 billion of assets. “It will take a lot of time and a lot of pain before shipping recovers.”
“We’ve seen several yards that have delivered their first ships, albeit delayed, and we expect them to increase the pace of deliveries in the second half,” said Svenning, who is based in Oslo. “We will see more next year than we see this year.”
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. and Nippon Yusen K.K., both based in Tokyo, and China Cosco Holdings Co. operate the world’s biggest bulk-shipping fleets, Mitsui says. Nippon Yusen forecast its first full-year loss in 23 years last month, citing lower demand for container shipping, and expects capesize rates to average $55,000 in the six months through March 31. Mitsui cut its full-year profit estimate by 25 percent last month. China Cosco said on Aug. 27 its commodity ships lost money in the first half.
Estimates in the survey ranged from $10,000 to $25,000. Sverre Bjorn Svenning, the analyst at Fearnley Consultants who correctly predicted last year’s collapse in the Baltic Dry Index, which fell 92 percent, was at the lower end.
The drop in capesizes is consistent with the Baltic Dry Index, a gauge of the cost of carrying dry bulk commodities such as iron ore, coal and grain. The index, which includes four types of vessels including capesizes, more than tripled this year. The index is 44 percent off its high for the year.
Heck, the supply issue is so overwhelming I am not even sure if green shoot Koo Aid can save this sector.Again, China is everything in this market now; Americans need to stop looking inward and using old sign posts or believing. BDI is some global growth signal. It’s China’s import signal now – they are the world’s marginal buyer.
(Chinese) Imports of refined copper fell 23 percent in July from the previous month. Coal shipments shrank 13 percent, customs data show. Iron-ore purchases will likely average about 16 percent less in the remainder of the year than in the first seven months, according to Will Fray, an analyst at Maritime Strategies International Ltd. in London.[Aug 24, 2009: Bloomberg - Coal Rally Ending as China Shuns Imports, Opens Mines]
“China could very easily turn the taps off,” Fray said. “Rates will keep sliding.”