The continued easing of lockdown restrictions across the globe, combined with the capacity constraints in other sectors, means that charter hire rates for the multipurpose and heavylift fleet are expected to continue to rise from their current peak for the remainder of the year, according to Drewry’s Multipurpose Shipping Forecaster published recently by global shipping consultancy Drewry.

According to Drewry’s Multipurpose Time Charter Index, average annual one-year period rates for July are expected to be some 65% higher than July 2020, almost 50% higher than July 2019, and surpass their last peak of 2008 (see chart). Drewry’s Multipurpose Time Charter Index is a weighted average of time charter rates across the breakbulk and heavylift fleet which is updated monthly and published free of charge on the Drewry website.

Figure 1: Drewry’s Multipurpose Time Charter Index, 2007 to July 2021

Figure 1: Drewry’s Multipurpose Time Charter Index, 2007 to July 2021

Source: Drewry Maritime Research

Breakbulk and heavylift charter rates have seen historic lows over the last ten years, exacerbated by container carriers moving further and further into this sector. When utilisation is weak in the competing bulk and container sectors, breakbulk cargo is stuffed into containers and project cargo carried by a wider variety of vessels. This increased competition has kept rates weak for much of the past decade, however, currently the reverse is true.

Capacity constraints in the competing sectors due to container equipment shortages, port congestion and the release of pent-up demand post the global pandemic, have combined to provide a perfect storm for the multipurpose fleet.

Drewry expects demand for multipurpose and heavylift tonnage to rise by some 11.5% in 2021 compared to 2020, before slowing to a steady 3.5% per year to 2025. This strengthening demand has been led by the recovery in global container traffic in 2021 due to a rise of over 7% for dry cargo global trade post the pandemic. China’s strengthening economic activity is driving crude steel production in the region and consequently both manufacturing and bulk demand. Add to this the US fiscal stimulus and improved health conditions that are producing an unprecedented rebound in consumer spending and housing activity in the US.

Inevitably there are still some caveats around our forecasts. In particular, the speed of the global recovery is dependent on both the vaccine rollout and the extent of economic policy supporting growth in any given region. This is prompting increasingly divergent recovery paths, widening the gap between developed and developing countries, compared to pre-pandemic expectations.

For the multipurpose sector, this divergent recovery could have a weakening effect as the need for breakbulk and project cargo tends to be led by renewed construction and investment in the developing countries. However, Drewry’s optimism for this sector is significantly improved, even from just three months ago, and we believe the current strength in the market will ride out the remainder of the year and beyond.

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