A Tale of Two Halves
2022 was a tale of two halves for the dry bulk market, with a strong first half followed by a rapid retreat in the second half of the year. Overall, it was still a pretty decent year, with rates holding above their 20-year median levels for most ship types.
Despite the decline in the second half of the year, Panamax spot rates averaged $20,900 per day in 2022, down from $26,600 per day in 2021. Similarly, Supramax rates dipped from $26,500 per day to $22,200 per day and Handysize rates slid from $24,300 per day to $20,300 per day. But Cape rates suffered a larger decline, falling from $32,600 per day in 2021 to $16,200 per day in 2022, bringing them below their 20 year median level of $19,000 per day.
Meanwhile, preliminary figures show dry bulk operating costs increasing by more than 4% in 2022, with all of the major components of opex rising. This was the largest annual increase in more than a decade, and followed a rise of just 2% in 2021. But despite these increases, earnings remained well above operating cost levels, even in the final quarter of the year.
Turning to secondhand market activity, it was down nearly 20% for 2022 as a whole, although we still saw more than 700 vessels change hands during the year. Asset values, for fixed-age ships, rose in the first half of the year, but then declined in the second half, and by the end of 2022 they were down by an average of 6% compared to their year-earlier levels.
As for the market fundamentals, we estimate that dry bulk fleet utilization fell from 88.8% in 2021 to 87.1% in 2022, driven primarily by a slowdown in trade growth. Preliminary estimates show dry bulk trade demand edging up by just 0.4% in 2022, down from 3.1% growth in 2021. The iron ore, grain, and minor bulk trades were especially weak, as they all declined compared to the previous year. In contrast, the coal trade was up by 3%, boosted by rising European and Indian imports, and the bauxite trade jumped by 15%, driven by increasing Chinese imports from Guinea.
On a regional basis, Chinese import demand fell by an estimated 2% in 2022, due to a drop in both iron ore and steam coal imports. Imports into Japan and the developing Asia region were also relatively weak, increasing by just 1%. However, European import demand jumped by an estimated 28%, due in large part to an increase in the average distance of the coal and steel product trades, as alternatives to Russian and Ukrainian supplies were sought.
In addition to weak trade growth, the market was hurt by a slight increase in fleet productivity during 2022, as lower fleet speed was more than offset by a decline in port delays, especially in the second half of the year.
Meanwhile, the dry bulk fleet grew significantly faster than demand during 2022, expanding by 2.7%. The Panamax/Kamsarmax fleet saw the fastest growth, expanding by 3.8%, while the fleet size of smaller ships (10-60k dwt) grew by 3.0%, and the Cape fleet expanded by 1.9%. Although deliveries slowed from 38 million dwt in 2021 to 30 million dwt in 2022, scrapping remained extremely low, holding near 5 million dwt.
Preliminary estimates show dry bulk ordering activity falling sharply, from 46 million dwt in 2021 to just over 25 million dwt in 2022, with the orderbook ending the year at just over 7% of the fleet size, down slightly from its year-earlier level and near its lowest level in 31 years.
Dry bulk and tanker eBrief reports are available now to subscribers via Navigator. We will release the 23Q1 quarterly update by the end of February. Flagship clients will receive the market updates via hosted site or delivery via email link. For further information, please contact one of our offices or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org