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08 December 2021 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 02:10 GMT+1

The dry bulk market in 2004


The dry bulk market

The second-hand market:
     Capesize - Panamax - Handymax & Handysize

Together with all the other sectors of the shipping market, 2004 was an exceptional year in the dry bulk. On the back of a very strong surge at the end of 2003, rates peaked in March before taking a plunge until the end of June. Then, they rebounded until December to reach and sometimes surpass previously established records. One only has to look at the figures of the following daily returns: $ 35,000 per day for a Handymax, $ 50,000 per day for a Panamax, and over $ 100,000 per day for a Capesize.

World demand for industrial dry bulk commodities increased sharply and exerted a strong pressure on charterers. All raw materials were affected. Demand took off, notably in the coal and ore sectors, which represent over half of the total volumes. Tonnage transported for iron ore went from roughly 520 million tons in 2003 to about 570 million tons in 2004. Coking coal increased from about 185 million tons to nearly 200 million and steam coal from over 420 million tons to 440, an overall rise of 7 %.

Depending on sources, the growth in volume in 2005 is expected to be around 5.5 to 6 %. Such figures make people fill dizzy and cannot be compared with what was experienced during the last fifteen years where we usually saw an average growth of 2 to 4 % depending on the years.

There is one key player who emerges from any analysis of the market: namely China. Having shown its potential over recent years, the rise in strength of the country has never been as clearly defined as in 2004.

The press has largely been following and reporting this phenomenon. Carried along by strong growth, Chinese demand for steel grew by more than 13 % in 2004 over the year. According to the Chinese Association for Ore and Steel (CSIA), domestic production went from 225 million tons in 2003 to 270 in 2004, with the aim of reaching 300 million tons in 2005.

At the same time, imports of iron ore went from 110 million tons in 2002 to nearly 200 million tons in 2004 (of which 80 million tons originating from Australia and from Brazil). As a result, there was heavy congestion in loading and discharging ports at the beginning of the year, which inevitably affected the global supply of available tonnage. This situation improved as from March when the Chinese authorities became aware of the extent of the problem and decided to implement de-stocking measures in the ports. Once begun, freight rates started to drop significantly.

During the month of June demand took off again, thus indicating that the efforts by the Chinese government to slow down economic growth were insufficient, precipitating another sharp rise in rates. Swept along by the dynamics of the market and the anticipation of high freight levels, this in turn provoked a surge in time-charter activity.

At the same time, operators became actively engaged on the freight futures market. Encouraged by the volatility of the physical market, a number of players found an answer to their needs of getting forward cover with derivatives. In many respects, it could be said that 2004 paved the way towards a maturing of these markets. It is worth noting that their influence in the decision making process for both owners and charterers, especially on contracts of affreightment and period charters, is growing.

Simultaneously, and also to reduce their exposure to an increasing volatility of the market, the main charterers and owners have been putting an emphasis on concluding long term partnerships, giving a long term business flow to the latter and a guarantee of regularity and stability in supply costs to the former.

However in this euphoric context, there are some signs that suggest a certain caution, starting with the rising supply of tonnage.



Ingrid Oldendorff
75,000 dwt, built in 2005 by Jiangnan, operated by Oldendorff Carriers

Numerous orders placed in 2003 and 2004 will start to be handed over to the market in 2005 and 2006. This historically high level of deliveries combined with a virtually non-existent volume of demolition should eventually start to have consequences on the market balance during the next few years.

Thus for Capesize, 8 million dwt were delivered in 2004, 8.7 are due in 2005 and 9.5 in 2006. For Panamax, 6 million dwt were delivered in 2004, and in 2005 the figure should be 6.8 million dwt. And for the Handymax, after 4.5 million dwt added in 2004, 6.2 million dwt can be expected in 2005!


Some factors could act in the favour of reducing the pace of delivery, for instance, the first being the price of steel and the difficulties shipyards have in buying engines. There is a high probability that we shall see numerous delays in deliveries. On the demand side, the slightest change in the economic policy of the Chinese government, with implications on imports and exports, will be measured in the light of the strategic role played by China today on the international scene. Based on CISA forecasts, the level of ore imports should reach 240 million tons in 2005, an increase of around 20 % compared to the 40 % witnessed in 2004.

Finally, a serious question mark remains as to the capacity of the main Australian and Brazilian ports to be able to handle the increase in demand as, at the same time, their productivity seems to be unable to improve in the short term. If this congestion phenomenon lasts, this will prevent a further growth of the trade flow and consequently new tonnage that will be introduced on the market would generate a surplus. Some old ships could then find their way to the scrapyards.

2004 will therefore be classified as an outstanding vintage, a historic year that is only seen once in a lifetime. This year has signalled the break with the long decades of cheap or even undervalued transport. The importance that China has acquired in world trade and her appetite for raw materials, has been and will remain the determining factor within the market evolution. The imbalance between supply and demand has led freight rates to levels never achieved before.

However, one should not underestimate the impact that the massive deliveries of new ships will have and although it is difficult to measure precisely, it will logically push owners to sell some older ships for scrap. In addition, even if demand is strong, the logistical difficulties encountered either with the distribution network or with port infrastructures, as well as a possible slowing down of China’s imports, could cast a shadow on the market.


The second-hand market


The second-hand market for Capesize (80,000 dwt and more) 2003


Swallowed up like so many others by the ferocious appetite of China for raw materials, freight rates took off to levels that nobody would have imagined and even less hoped for. The scarcity of berths for newbuildings helped feed this frenzy to purchase second-hand ships or newbuilding contracts with prompt delivery, the latter being able to be quickly repaid given the rates they can obtain on the market.

When in December 2003, a 5 years old 170,000 dwt ship, built in a good shipyard was worth about $ 48 to 49 million, its value was close to $ 62 million in March 2004!

At the end of June or early July, after a rather severe correction in the market, brought about by statements from the Chinese Prime Minister concerning necessary measures which were needed to slow down the economy that had become overheated, this same type of ship saw its value drop back to a level of around $ 45 million.

However the market did not cool off for long and the year ended with prices rising again to $ 65 to 66 million.

We have been able to record some fifty transactions in the course of this extremely active year.

It is surprising to see that the rise in values has affected all ships irrespective of age and that a number of new buyers have emerged, principally Chinese, for whom purchasing has rapidly become an alternative to chartering at prohibitive rates.

In order to stay in the competition, some transactions have often been made without any inspection being carried out on the ship.

At the end of the year a distinct bullish trend was still clearly perceptible.


Eric LD 
169,900 dwt, built in 1999 by Daewoo HI, sold at the end of the year by Louis Dreyfus Armateurs to Diana Shipping Agencies

The Panamax, Handymax & Handy bulk carrier second-hand market

For all of us in shipping, 2004 will be the year we shall remember for a very long time. We thought that 2003 was THE year but 2004 surpassed all expectations. We had concluded last year’s review by stating: “If the world economic data and indicators available can be considered as reliable then we would expect the dry bulk freight market to remain at levels considered as very firm and we would not therefore expect bulk carrier prices to ease off any time soon. In fact we would expect prices to firm further, so, for those contemplating an investment in dry bulk tonnage the sooner this is undertaken the better it will be” and we added “Today’s extremely firm price becomes tomorrow’s normal market price and a few weeks later it is considered as cheap”.

This was exactly what happened and even more, much more …

Prices for second-hand tonnage followed the freight market increases without a miss. On some occasions the increase in values was much more important than the equivalent freight rate increase, as buyers and sellers alike were anticipating further increases.

Comparing second-hand values, for the various sizes under consideration, at the end of 2004 against those at the end of 2003 we’ve noted:

an average of 45 % to 65 % increase in the Panamax size, an average of 50 % to 60 % increase in the Handymax size, an average of 40 % to 50 % increase in the Handy size.

Demolition sales remained at an all time low and of course prices achieved by dry bulk tonnage sold for demolition remained extremely high. They moved from $ 270-275 per ldt at the end of 2003 to the “astronomical” levels of $ 370-380 for vessels sold for demolition to India, whereas the Chinese were paying about $ 320 per ldt at the end of 2004 compared to about $ 290 about 12 months earlier.

2004 was the year of the large “en-bloc” deals, it was also the year when traditional tanker owners diversified in the dry bulk sector, the year during which a 15 to 20 year-old bulk unit was worth more than ever before, prompting several owners (e.g. Oceanbulk Maritime) to sell a large number of such vintage ladies and at last the year of some successful Initial Public Offerings (IPO’s) shipping companies (mostly Greek controlled) managing and involved in dry bulk vessels, in the U.S. public equity markets.

Among these “en-bloc” transactions it is worth noting:

  • The Restis group acquisition for $ 740 million of the whole MISC dry bulk fleet consisting of 32 bulk carriers (9 Panamaxes, 9 Handymaxes and 14 Handies)

  • The General Maritime Group (Peter Georgiopoulos), acquisition for $ 420 million of the Top Glory fleet consisting of 16 bulk carriers (5 Panamaxes, 6 Handymaxes and 5 Handies)

  • Precious Shipping concluded a number of en-bloc acquisitions in the Handysize segment (all mid/early 1980’s built): 9 Handies from PNSL (Malaysia) in March, 6 Handies from Pacific Basin in February and in addition, there were linked to another 10 to 12 purchases of Handies over the year.

Some of the traditional tanker owners have been actively participating in the dry bulk carriers second-hand market, like General Maritime (mentioned earlier), Frontline (John Fredriksen), and others.

Ship’s values evolution

At the end of the year a 10 year-old Panamax bulk carrier was worth about $ 32 to 33 million, representing an increase of about 65 % over the past 12 months, a 5 year-old Panamax bulk carrier was worth about $ 40 million, which represents about 48 % appreciation when compared to the value recorded one year earlier.

A 10 year-old Handymax bulk carrier was worth about $ 25 million, representing an increase of about 55 % over a period of 12 months, a 5 year-old Handymax bulk carrier was worth about $ 31 million, which represents a 55 % appreciation when compared to the same period one year earlier in December 2003.

A 10 years old Handy bulk carrier was worth about $ 16 million, representing an increase of about 45 % over a period of 12 months, a 5 years old Handy bulk carrier was worth about $ 21.5 million, which represents a 48 % appreciation when compared to how much it was worth one year earlier in December 2003.


Concluding this year’s review of the second-hand dry bulk carrier markets, the eternal and unavoidable question is still on everyone’s mind “How long will this freight market and consequently the second-hand market last?” There is no clear answer and as always all involved in shipping will be trying to analyse the world economic data, the supply and demand situation which is fundamental in all markets, but, more importantly, everybody will be looking closely to the Chinese economy and the availability or rather the non-availability of building berths for dry bulk carriers (in the sizes we have been referring to).

We may therefore witness the second-hand prices for Panamax, Handymax and Handy bulkers behaving in a much more volatile style than during the past 12 to 24 months and as such any investment in this sector should be pursued cautiously. The other face of the coin, would of course be to capitalise on the present very high values and sell any tonnage, purchased at much lower levels.

Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2004


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