Commodities & Metals

Dry Bulk Shippers Pin Hopes on Iron Ore, China

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Shares of a host of shipping companies are getting a big boost today on a report from Bloomberg that the 2013 outlook for shipping rates, especially for iron ore, are set to rise substantially during the year. Another way of putting it is that rates have nowhere to go but up.

Eagle Bulk Shipping Inc. (NASDAQ: EGLE) leads today’s charge, up nearly 38%. That would be phenomenal if the shares weren’t still nearly 70% below their 52-week highs. Other shippers getting a boost today include DryShips Inc. (NASDAQ: DRYS), up 19%; Excel Maritime Carriers Ltd. (NYSE: EXM), up almost 26%; Frontline Ltd. (NYSE: FRO), up nearly 10%; Genco Shipping & Trading Ltd. (NYSE: GNK), up nearly 7%; and Diana Shipping Inc. (NYSE: DSX), up about 5.5%.

The main measure of dry bulk shipping rates, the Baltic Dry Index, closed 2012 at just under 700, more than 50% below where it started the year. Lower demand from China for iron ore gets a lot of the blame.

But demand — and price — for iron ore has picked up in China, and is expected to remain higher at least temporarily. Or perhaps we should say, at most temporarily. Iron ore prices have risen to above $140 a metric ton (tonne) from below $88 a tonne in September.

The contributing factor is iron ore production. Many of the big mining companes like Vale SA (NYSE: VALE), Rio Tinto plc (NYSE: RIO), and BHP Billiton Ltd. (NYSE: BHP) have cut production in the face of lower prices and higher costs. Bringing new production on line to meet rising demand slowed but never stopped, and growth will continue this year, pushing down prices.

That may be good news for the dry bulk shippers who will benefit if ore prices remain low and demand from China grows. The big question is how long the spurt will last.

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