ContributionsDry Cargo

The Baltic as shipping’s Illuminati? Fat chance

Mr Prospector takes aim at the new Twitter account, @ActionBaltic. The Baltic Exchange might be incompetent, he argues, but top management there is certainly not running a global conspiracy.

It’s hard to know where to start with this dry bulk market at the moment. Like the gifts that I received last Christmas Day, it is almost exclusively pants. And again, like my Christmas presents, I keep asking myself why does it always seem to be pants? Why is it that every time a bonus comes in sight for anybody in the dry bulk market that the thing falls out of bed like a tanked up sailor in a Force 9? I really couldn’t think of why this is until I started to read the Tweets from somebody called @ActionBaltic, which told me that it was all a conspiracy to hold the market down to help out major charterers (come on, don’t say you haven’t heard about this!). Of course, this also helps out any shipping company that is due to pay a bonus. Why can’t bonuses be paid out in November, statistically most often the highest month of the year?

Returning to @ActionBaltic, I have to say I’m perplexed. Now I have been on a few Baltic committees over the years, and certainly been to one or two cocktail receptions (who hasn’t?). At the last one I attended I asked for two dirty Martinis and sex on the beach, only to be told there were bottles of Becks and some red wine, but definitely no Martinis. In fact, pretty much the only drink I could not have was a cocktail. And as I ended up talking about shipping for what seemed like 14 hours while wearing the family suit and my ill-fitting wedding shoes, it was quite far from my idea of a party. The whole thing needs rebranding if you ask me. What about ‘Come and meet some white men to competitively socialise while scanning a room for somebody more interesting to speak to. We’ll supply some drinks you’d never usually order, food you’d never choose to eat and you can supply the clichéd waffle. RSVP’. That perfectly represents my experiences.

What is painfully obvious though is that @ActionBaltic – who are sort of describing themselves like Bond villains, when their output is more like Austin Powers (with terrible spelling and grammar to boot) – are attempting to put up the Baltic Exchange as some kind of shipping Illuminati. Without drawing too much ire, what sort of person really actually wants to be on the Baltic committees? Don’t answer that out loud please. If they are running a global conspiracy then hats off to them for hiding their ability to do so incredibly well. In terms of the indices, if @ActionBaltic had said that they believed that the Baltic rates represented a badly informed bit of guesswork, masquerading as representative market values, then I think that motion would have been passed by a majority of 80% of shipping participants (a conservative estimate I know).

Perhaps the point that @ActionBaltic are missing is that we know this already. What is more, like sorting out car parking in a town you never visit, who cares? The indices are badly marked? Literally every person who has ever thought about this for more than a minute would agree, fail to think of a better method, furthermore fail to even care, and not give the whole thing another thought. Like predicting the end of the world, working on improving the accuracy of the indices is something most of us have stopped listening to or caring about the first time somebody said it would happen and nothing ever did. Anybody who has attended an FMIUG meeting has listened to the hugely vested interest groups (often single companies) trying to say this route or that should be higher or lower because of this reason or that. People fly there to sit and not listen, waiting for drinks they don’t usually drink.

But we know that the protagonists are just trying to manipulate it while nobody really cares, even when the moaner tries to pretend it is ‘for the good of the people’ when everyone knows who’s good it is really for. Who couldn’t name the fund manager who always jumped to his feet during any FMIUG meeting to bemoan the inaccurate marking of the P2A? I am reliably informed that he’s still doing the routine, although the route has now changed. So yes, we know people try to manipulate the indices. No FFAs, no index-linked contracts, no interest.

The FFA market is very small, but vocal, index-linked contracts are also pretty rare, but overall, the notion that there is anybody anywhere in shipping with the co-ordinated business plans and ability to act upon them to suppress all of the rates just doesn’t pass muster. Are Baltic rates hopelessly inaccurate? Most likely. Are all shipping rates, Baltic or not, a badly informed bit of guesswork?

Probably, yes. Is this pot shot from @ActionBaltic liable to draw blood? Not once has anybody who has moaned ever seen any meaningful changes, whether wanting rates up or down. Some proper facts to back up the @ActionBaltic accusations wouldn’t go amiss. Otherwise, join the queue of FFA traders and index manipulators that have lost the plot when things that they thought they could influence proved stubbornly indifferent to their cries.

The haunting oil painting of handsome former chairmen, the architects of the sale of the Baltic Exchange to SGX, hangs on the wall of the Members Bar in St Mary Axe, reminding us that complex Machiavellian plots appear to be unlikely. Take that as you will, but whatever happened to accusations of plain old-fashioned incompetence at the Baltic Exchange? Now that was something I could get behind!

Not come across Mr Prospector before? Here’s a selection of recent Tweets to give you an impression of the most scurrilous opinion writer in shipping.



  1. I laughed out loud at some of this. 20 years ago I was arranging the Young Baltic Association (YBA) networking drinks (and other YBA events) in London and we certainly had more choice of food and drink at the venues I selected because we avoided the exchange itself. The Spanish Tapas in the old Spitalfields market was always very popular, however, I don’t think the Baltic picked up the tab.. maybe some of the bar tab that lasted about 10 minutes at the beginning.

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