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Maritime CEO Forum Singapore: China the big known unknown when it comes to dry bulk

Shipping must prepare itself for market conditions in which Chinese dry bulk imports will peak very shortly, delegates attending last week’s Maritime CEO Forum in Singapore were told.

Concluding the half-day event, a high-level panel representing different strands of the segment took the stage for the forum’s wide-ranging dry bulk debate, moderated by Punit Oza, the CEO of Wiz Bulk.

Conceding that Chinese steel output has likely peaked, Stamatis Tsantanis, chairman and CEO of listed cape concern Seanergy Maritime Holdings, reminded the audience that regardless the world needs steel and 55% of it comes from China.

“China appears to be quite comfortable at that 1bn tonnes a year mark, which is huge,” said Rob Aarvold, commercial director at Swire Bulk, suggesting that the days of 2-3% growth had probably passed. While European steel output was also down this year, Aarvold noted the strong growth being registered among steel mills in Southeast Asia. This dry bulk growth in Southeast Asia was something also picked up by Tsantanis who discussed the hundreds of coal-fired power stations being built in the region at the moment.

On China, the nation that is central to dry bulk’s fortunes, audience member Adam Kent, who heads up consultancy Maritime Strategies International, warned delegates: “Chinese dry bulk imports will peak in next three years and that is primarily down to coal.” He also noted how there was a lot more recycled steel in China these days, something that will impact that market.

“China is the big known unknown,” said panellist Su Yin Anand, head of shipping at miner South32, suggesting the nation’s economic path would become clearer once big upcoming political gatherings in Beijing are out the way.

“In the short term we are looking closely at the US dollar, interest rates and China,” she said, telling the audience to expect pockets of volatility.

Long term, Anand, who is also co-founder of tech talent competition The Captain’s Table, maintained that supply demand fundamentals support “relatively healthy” freight rates compared to pre-covid for the supra, handy and panamax sectors.

Some attendees at the show were introduced to a new shipping term: recontainerisation, the process where bulk commodities disappear from the geared sector as box shipping fortunes slide. 

Geared ships, which had benefitted from containers over the past 18 months, now face the challenge of recontainerisation, Swire’s Aarvold said. 

“We’ve always said what happens on containers will be a precursor to what happens on the bulk markets,” said Chris Cheng, managing director of LD Bulk.

Maritime CEO Forum Singapore 2022 was sponsored by Aderco, Cobham Satcom, CyberOwl, Dualog, Inmarsat, Liberian Registry, Ocean Technologies Group, SEDNA, Synergy Group, Vanir Marine, Wallem, WIZ Bulk and Zero North.

The next Maritime CEO Forum takes place at the Monaco Yacht Club on October 12 while April 24 has been announced as the date for the event’s return to Singapore, timed to coincide with the start of the city’s busy official maritime week.


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