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Since July 2020, the container market has benefitted from a surge in consumption of goods compared to pre-COVID levels, and head-haul and regional trade volumes have followed. Compared to the same period of 2019, container volumes in the second half of 2020 were up 5.7% while full year 2021 volumes were 9.0% higher. Volumes in the first half of 2022 were up 8.3%, also compared with H1 2019. Despite a growing fleet, capacity supply was unable to keep up as port congestion absorbed as much as 14% of the fleet, data from Sea-Intelligence shows.
On 30 September 2022, China added 15 million tonnes to its 2022 export quota for oil products. The quota includes 13.25 million tonnes for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as well as 1.75 million for low-sulphur marine fuel. If headed for the EU, it could be a welcome addition to the block seeking to replace on average 2 million tonnes of diesel imports from Russia when sanctions take effect from February 2023 and demand for heating increases in the winter months. It could also add some attractive tonne miles for product tankers.
On 26 September, soymeal prices in China surged 8% to CNY 5,500 (USD 739) per tonne compared to Monday last week. Following a jump in demand ahead of China’s national day on 1 October some crushers have had to stop production due to a shortage of soybeans. This could signal a recovery in imports after months of lacklustre demand and high soybean prices which have caused a 6.2% y/y drop in soybean imports so far in 2022.
Gulf of Guinea crude oil exports have year-to-date contributed 13.7% of VLCC’s tonne miles demand and 16.5% of Suezmaxes. A 13.5% y/y drop in Nigerian year-to-date crude oil output has been the main drain on demand and caused a 5.9% decline in tonne miles. A further decline in Gulf of Guinea exports can be expected from mid-2023 when Nigeria’s Dangote refinery begins operation – requiring a sizeable portion of the country’s crude oil – and possibly add to rate volatility.
Container volumes in head-haul and regional trades are the key drivers of container vessel demand, average container rates, liner operator profits, and, since 2020, port congestion. According to Container Trade Statistics, combined head-haul and regional trade volumes fell 0.4% y/y in the first half of 2022. Head-haul volumes were 1.3% lower than a year ago while regional volumes were 0.6% higher. Under normal market circumstances the peak season in key head-haul trades should lift Q3 volumes. However, recently released volume statistics indicate that there may be no peak season in 2022 but it is very likely that volumes will slow in Q4.
On 22 July, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement to allow grain exports from three ports in Ukraine during a period of 120 days. On 7 September, Putin expressed concerns over the agreement, giving rise to uncertainty about its scope and renewal.
Preliminary shipping data from Oceanbolt shows a 1.7% y/y drop in Chinese iron ore import volumes in August. The volumes are, however, the highest since January and follow a 3.1% y/y increase in July. Year-to-date, Chinese iron ore imports are down 3.3% y/y, making up around 20% of global dry bulk volumes, but could be in for a bounce, benefitting the struggling Capesize segments.
China is the world’s largest importer of crude oil, accounting for approximately 25% of global crude import volumes. The country’s crude imports are also equal to about 25% of global seaborne crude oil volumes which contributed to about 30% of dirty tanker trade tonne miles in 2021 according to Signal Ocean statistics. From 2010 to 2020, China’s crude imports grew at an average annual rate of 8.5% and have been the key demand driver for both crude oil and crude tanker demand.
Initially, the COVID-19 pandemic and mobility restrictions across the world led to much lower transport demand in the container sector. In the 3rd quarter of 2020, however, demand jumped as consumers converted spending on services to higher spending on goods. Freight and time charter rates have since reached historically high levels as congestion has increased the strain on supply. Now, the size of the container fleet has, however, caught up with transport demand.
On 9 August, the Indonesian Energy and Mineral Resources Minister announced that 71 coal miners failed to meet their domestic market obligations, and that 48 of them are now banned from exporting coal. The ban comes into force just as the EU ban on Russian coal takes full effect and demand for non-Russian coal increases.