Coal Ships Surge on China Cargoes Still Below Operating Cost

Rates for coal-carrying ships jumped the most in almost three months as Chinese importers sought cargoes before the country’s New Year. The vessels are still earning less than they need to cover costs.

Daily earnings for Panamaxes hauling about 75,000 metric tons of dry-bulk commodities rose 6.1 percent to $5,523, led by gains in the Pacific, according to the Baltic Exchange, the London-based publisher of freight rates. That’s the biggest increase since Nov. 15, helping the Baltic Dry Index, a broader gauge of commodity shipping costs, rise 1.2 percent to 749.

Chinese demand for coal drove the increase as importers book cargoes before next week’s holidays, said Guy Campbell, head of dry bulk at Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker. Rates are still about 16 percent below the vessels’ operating costs, based on an estimate from Moore Stephens LLP, a London-based accountant and consultant. Earnings plunged since 2008 because owners ordered too many ships.

“The pre-New Year’s rush to fix before the holiday often has a psychological effect on the market,” Campbell said by phone today from London. “We generally see it as positive volatility but we don’t see long-term strength because of the fundamental pressure of fleet growth.”

Capesizes, about twice as large as Panamaxes, also gained, adding 1.3 percent to $7,514 a day, according to the exchange. Supramaxes and Handysizes, the smallest ships tracked by the index, declined 0.4 percent to $7,013 and 1.3 percent to $6,348, respectively.

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