Bulker markets have been strong this year to date and the best could still be ahead, according to John Michael Radziwill, the chief executive of pooling giant C Transport Maritime (CTM) and shipowner GoodBulk.

Average daily capesize spot rates swung back up above the $40,000 level on Monday and Radziwill believes they could reach $50,000 before the end of the year.

The volatility being seen in dry cargo markets, particularly for capesizes, is down to "the crazy world we live in today", Radziwill said.

"You've had different big cargo supply depots — and also where a lot of cargoes are delivered to — go through new waves of the coronavirus, so that kind of brings activity down and then pushes it back up," he explained.

"And then you have had your usual seasonal complications, especially with Brazilian iron ore. Also a little bit of weather-related disturbances in the soft-commodity trades, like in South America, and in China, there was a big flood."

GoodBulk and CTM, however, are comfortable with a little chaos.

"What we say is we're conditioned to thrive in volatile environments, so when the volatility gets more and the market gets a little crazy, we like to think that we are kind of more comfortable and actually calmer and able to navigate around it," he said.

"We're able to do that, frankly, because of the synergies we create among all of our participants and the platform we've been able to build."

Radziwill expects average capesize earnings to surpass $50,000 per day this quarter and said they should remain above $40,000 for the remainder of the year.

"I think you have a lot of stars aligning in the iron ore output, especially from Brazil, that's long-haul tonnes," he said.

"But we have the seaborne coal trade; that's actually surprised us the most to the upside. We don't see that stopping, certainly not this year. It's very strong."

Demand for grain is strong. Photo: Pixabay

All this is being underpinned by consistently robust demand for soft commodities like grains, he said.

"We have a shift east from South American grain exports, and that will move more into Europe, the Black Sea and also the US. You have a shift in grain seasons, but we think those volumes will stay up," he said.

Food security

Reading into this demand, Radziwill said it shows forward planning by major importers to prevent a replay of the recent past.

"If we remember in 2010 and in 2008, there were global food shortages. And with everything that's happened generally in the world with the pandemic, the social unrest, we find it very difficult to believe that governments wouldn't continue to buy as many kinds of food-source commodities as they possibly could," he explained.

He expects that logistical bottlenecks and inefficiencies will continue to affect bulker trades for the time being.

"I actually don't think we'll be able to have a more efficient market in the sense that we won't have delays or you won't have ships having to be at sea longer — because of crew changes and precautionary measures related to the pandemic," he explained.

Next year

"I think as owners, we should really be prepared for 2022 because we would be very surprised if day rates are not much higher in 2022 than they have been in 2021 — and 2021 has been a very good year."

But if the market moves up as expected, then so too will GoodBulk's opportunity costs, he said.

"So we have to be very careful and very diligent going into 2022. A good market is when we have to work the hardest and the smartest," he said.

"We have to be more concentrated because every decision is frankly worth more money for our shareholders."

But against this backdrop of high vessel earnings and a positive outlook, there are still things that worry Radziwill.

"What's keeping me awake at night is the safety of our crews in this pandemic and how we can protect them as much as possible," he said.

"I want our crews to be safe and, of course, I want all of our staff and our stakeholders in the CTM family to be safe, but starting with the crews."

GoodBulk's second-quarter result

GoodBulk logged net profit of $20.6m during the second quarter of 2021, almost seven times what it booked last quarter and a marked improvement on the $5.8m loss it booked in the corresponding period of 2020.

Revenue totalled $71.1m during the second quarter, up from $49m during the first three months, aided by strong earnings for GoodBulk's 22 capesizes and one panamax bulker.

The bulker company, which owns 22 capesizes and a panamax, has just declared a $1.00 per share dividend for the second quarter on the back of surging vessel revenues.

GoodBulk's capesize fleet logged an average gross time-charter equivalent (TCE) rate of $23,503 per day during the first quarter and its panamax earned TCE of $21,521 per day.

A year ago, its capesizes earned $8,912 per day on average and its panamax had income of $7,314 per day.

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