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Retail sales are a key driver of European container imports. In early 2020 and early 2021, retail sales volumes in the EU and the UK suffered setbacks due to COVID restrictions but recently, high inflation and historically low consumer confidence have been the main concerns.
On 22 July, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement with Turkey and the United Nations to allow grain exports from three ports in western Ukraine: Yuzhne, Chornomorsk, and Odesa. Combined, the three ports accounted for 65% of the country’s total grain exports over the past five years. Exports could, however, face several difficulties.
Between 1996 and 2021, the lowest half-yearly tanker contracting volume was 3.0m DWT, recorded in the first half of 1999. Despite improved freight rates and a more positive market outlook, the first six months of 2022 ended with barely more than half that volume: only 1.6m DWT was contracted. Consequently, the order book to fleet ratio has fallen to 5.1% for both crude and product tankers, a ratio which is also the lowest since 1996.
In the first half of 2022, the Chinese economy was plagued with weak demand and low economic growth, driven in part by their zero COVID policy. The country’s weaker economy caused a lower demand for steel, meaning that production fell by 8.7% y/y as of May.
Immediately following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, crude oil prices increased on fears of supply disruption. In less than two weeks, Brent prices rose from USD 97/barrel to USD 128/barrel. Since then, Brent prices have consistently been above USD 100 and above USD 110 since mid-May. On 5 July, Brent dropped to USD 102.77 and WTI ended at USD 99.50. Some analysts now predict even lower prices before the end of the year.
China’s crude oil imports have doubled from 2011 to 2021 and now account for 20% of global seaborne crude oil volumes.
In October 2020, the order book for new container ships bottomed out at 8.4% of the combined trading fleet. For ships smaller than 8,000 TEU, the order book bottomed out one month later at 3.7% of the trading fleet, and only accounted for 18.2% of the total container order book. Interest in the smaller segments, however, is bouncing back after months of hibernation.
President Alberto Fernández recently pledged that Argentina would seize the opportunity to help meet global wheat demand while taking advantage of the high prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A poor harvest, however, could change the picture.
In 2019, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, jet fuel contributed an estimated 8% of oil products’ cargo demand. When travel restrictions were imposed during the pandemic, air travel suffered significantly and jet fuel shipments in 2021 were down approximately 33% compared to 2019. Airlines’ capacity has been on a slow recovery path since bottoming out in April 2020 but remains significantly lower than 2019 levels.
In a notice released on 5 May 2022, India’s Ministry of Power instructed all power plants to increase their imports of coal. Specifically, the Ministry demands that power plants designed to run on domestic coal start importing at least 10% of their requirements.