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Various factors which will affect the grain markets

Stopford (2009, p.1) says that ‘forecasting is not an impossible task, but successful forecasting calls for a bit of smoke and mirrors.’ Forecasting is important because it helps the business to prepare for the future. This essay will forecast the grain shipping markets by analysing various factors which will affect the grain markets. This essay will forecast for the next 3 months as current grain crop year finishes in June 2010. The grain trades are unpredictable, with the tonnage requiring shipment hugely dependent on the size of harvests in the producing regions, and in those consuming countries whose imports largely depend on the size of their own crops. It is a trade where the flexibility of sea transport really counts. This essay will look into various supply and demand factors affecting the shipping industry by giving previous statistical data and then analyse and forecast the data for the supply and demand factors.


The history of grain trade is as old as the birth of civilisation. International shipment of grain was also present during the ancient Greece and roman empires. In the modern days grain trading plays an important role in the global economy and governments have a special claim over the grain. Grain has an economic and political importance and is also one of the major issues while policy making (Atkin, 1995). Grain in essence means wheat, corn (Maize) etc. Soya bean is also considered grain as categorised in International grain code. Soya bean market will not be considered in this essay. Grain is shipped mainly my handy size and panamax size ships, very rarely capsize ships are used. (Atkin, 1995 and Genco Shipping, 2010) There are mainly five big players in the grain industry such as Cargill and they account to almost three-quarters of the world grain shipment (Atkin, 1995). Grain is traditionally exported from America and Argentina while importing nations are Japan, Middle East nations. Grain trade routes have changed in recent times because of industrialisation and technology advancement. The changes in trade routes are because of availability of information from leading indicators and traders can forecast the grain production. Some of the key leading indicators are the Baltic dry index which gives the reflection of the freight rates of commodities (Iron ore, coal, grain) that are shipped around the world. Another good indicator for grain is the IGC grain freight index (FAO, 2009). It is similar to BDI but is calculated only for grain cargo. Grain trading information is available on the FAO, Grain council, UNCTAD and USDA websites.

Source: Noble group, 2010


Forecasting shipping market is concerned with the futures of the markets as a whole. Forecasting looks at the external environment in which a shipping company operates. The main objective is to examine the world grain market and prepare a forecast for the next three months. Overall supply and demand factors statistical analysis will be done and how these factors will affect the freight rate markets will be analysed (Stopford, 1997).

Prior to making an analysis it is very important to understand the business cycle of shipping industry. As per Stopford, 1997, p.42 it is a ‘process by which the market co-ordinates supply with changes in demand by means of familiar cycle of booms and slumps’. When forecasting the shipping market understanding of business cycle is very important. There are four stages of cycle as shown in the diagram (Stopford, 1997). Traders should understand the stages of shipping cycles and accordingly plan their decisions.

Stages in Dry Market cargo cycle

Source: Stopford, 1997

Key Indicators Baltic Dry index (BDI) is a key indicator for bulk trade and is an economic indicator for future trades. The business cycle is analysed by using the BDI. BDI shows for all dry bulk cargoes and for all trade routes. Another key indicator is the Grain Freight Index (GFI). It takes into consideration only grain cargoes. It is composed of 15 major grain routes, representing the main grade trade flows. Cape size vessels are not included only handy size and panamax vessels are included in the calculation of GFI. (FAO, 2009)

Source: FAO, 2009


Shipping industry is a derived demand. There are various factors which affect the shipping markets. The supply demand model explains the various factors which affect the shipping industry. The graph below shows the supply and demand curves in tramp shipping. Demand for shipping grain in short term is in-elastic as grain is a basic necessity. But if the price of shipping increases then in the longer run the importer looks for alternative options (Volk, 2002). Supply is mainly related to number of ships in the market, and available ships for transporting cargo. Normally in liner trade the supply curve starts off with minimum rate and in good market conditions where supply of ships is less than demand the curve rises, but it remains there for a short span (Volk, 2002). Analysis of these supply and demand factors is very essential to understand the shipping market and prepare a forecast.

Source: (Volk, 2002).

The graph shows the relationship between demand and supply in grain trading. Increase in demand during bad market conditions (D1 to D2) does not have influence on freight rate (P1 and P2) as sufficient tonnage is available. The increase in demand (D3 to D4) leads to a significant rate increase (P3 to P4) (Volk, 2002).


The world economy – The world economy plays a very important role in influencing the ships demand. There is a very close relationship between countries becoming wealthier and increase in demand for grain transport by sea. Hence understanding of the global economy is important to judge the trends in the grain trade. (Stopford, 1997).The world GDP is increasing every year and as per statistics from IMF in 2008 the world GDP increased by 3.0 % and in 2009 it decreased by -0.8%. In the emerging economies like China 8.7% and India 5.6% GDP growth is enormous and the countries are developing fast (IMF, 2010). As can be seen from the diagram below, as the countries develops economically the demand for commodities traded by sea increases. It is a cyclic process where the increase in seaborne trade helps the countries to economic growth and the world markets grow. More over globalisation has also resulted in growth of seaborne trade. (Stopford, 1997).

Source: Author generated

China and India also have a very high population. The capacity of developing countries especially China and India to consume basic foodstuff such as bread have increased. Hence it has directly affected the global consumption of grain and hence the increase in trade (Atkin, 1995). As countries get wealthier they also tend to change their dietary patterns. The demand for meat is increasing every year. This is directly affecting the coarse grain trade (USDA, 2008). Almost 70% of coarse grain consumption is in the form of animal feed (Atkin, 1995).

Seaborne commodity trades Grain accounts to about 7% of the world seaborne trade as per Clarkson’s (2008 cited in Scott, 2010). Grain trade is driven by production and consumption trends in different areas of the world, by the local weather conditions and crop yields and changing pattern of food consumption. Grain is also used for making bread or pasta or feed to animals to produce meat (ICS, 2004). Grain is grown very widely around the world. In the northern hemisphere there is USA, Canada European union and in the southern hemisphere there is Argentina and Australia. Hence harvests are crops reach seaborne trade throughout the year (Genco Shipping, 2010). Most of the grain grown in China and India is used for local consumption and hence it does not affect the seaborne trade. Countries like USA produce grain for exporting stock up the grain in SILOS which also helps the grain trade to flow throughout the year (Atkin, 1995 and IGC, 2010). World’s grain trade has increased over the years, as per current data the trade has increased from 215 million tons in 2005/06 to 239 million tons in 2007/08 (FAO, 2009).

Source: Clarkson 2008 cited in Scott 2010.

There are seasonal variations due to climatic conditions and difference in productivity of soil (Atkin, 1995). Seaborne grain trade is also affected by natural calamities, earthquakes such as one in Haiti in 2010. Other Factors such as a drought or flood in China may force the country in the one or other year to import grain from the USA (Volk, 2002). Over the years the grain production is associated with instability in production. This is result of extensive spread of high yield seeds and cultivation technology. This has resulted in farmers in different regions are exposed to similar problems like fertilizer prices, crop disease (Atkin, 1995).

The seaborne trade of grain also depends upon which part of the world is good harvest of which type and quality of grain (Atkin, 1995). Majority of the produced grain crop is used for domestic consumption as is the case with India and China. Countries such as USA and Australia produce grain only for exporting (Atkin, 1995). As per statistics from IGC total grain production for year 07/08 was 1697 million tons out of which only 239 million tons was traded in the world market (FAO, 2009).

Grain statistics is calculated for the crop year starting from June every year. Hence the data available for forecasting will be only till June 2010 because of the harvest season. (Scott, 2010) As grain production depends upon so many factors it is difficult to get an outlook in future because of the current growing season in the northern hemisphere which is influential in forecasting of grain. International grain council publishes its grain forecast only after June every year (Scott, 2010).

Average haul Demand for sea transport is directly related to distance over which the cargo is shipped. Sea transport demand is measured in tonne mile.

Ton mile = Tonnage of cargo shipped x Average distance over which it is transported

Source: UNCTAD, 2009, p.30

As seen from the above table the world seaborne trade for grain in ton-mile has increased over the years from 475 billion ton-mile in 1970 to 2,029 billion ton-mile in 2008. The average haul for grain has increased over the years which are directly affecting the demand for ships (Platou, 2010). ‘Transport of grains and soybeans were also longer in 2009, mainly due to increased Asian sourcing from Atlantic exporters’. (Platou, 2010, p.22).

Political events and Agricultural policies Political events indirectly affect the demand for transport of grain cargoes. The impacts of wars will affect the trade for a short term. Political embargo such as, The grain embargo, introduced by the United States on the USSR after the invasion of Afghanistan, reduced Russian grain supplies by about six million tonnes in 1979/80. This affected a change in the grain trade as Russia had to buy grain from other nations such as Canada, Australia and EU (Tarrant, 2002).

Agricultural policies in countries also affect the world grain market. Policies made directly affect the production of grain and it also protects the farmers from the world market conditions (ATkin,1995). India had imposed a grain export ban because it wanted to use the produced grain for its internal market. India which is the second largest producer of wheat is now planning to lift the ban on exports because this year wheat output is going to be more than required for local consumption. Hence in the interest of the country India will open its grain markets to the world. (Hellenic shipping news, 2010).

Key players in grain trade There are five major international grain trading companies. These players account to three-quarters of the grain shipped internationally. Hence these companies have the power to manage the physical flow of grain from farmer to consumer (Atkin, 1995). The shipping part of grain is very complex and is also very risky. Grain is traded extremely widely and hence informational network need to operate on a global scale. The big grain companies have information systems which provide them information from every country. Their agents are located in every significant grain producing, exporting, and importing nation, monitoring the weather, economic trends, crop conditions and political development. Hence the economics of scale deter new entrant from entering into the grain market. Hence these big companies can be influential in affecting the markets (Atkin, 1995).


The supply side factors mainly consist of the ships which are available and operating in the market. The supply of ships is mainly controlled by four decision makers, Ship owners, charterers, bankers and various regulatory authorities which make rules. The supply of shipping capacity depends upon the judgment made by these players. To understand this first we will discuss the supply side factors and how they are influence by the freight rates.

World fleet Historically grain cargo is carried onboard general cargo ships. By the late 1950’s bulk carriers appeared into the shipping market. Eventually there where ships built which could carry grain cargo. These ships construction was such that they had self trimming holds which would make them safer to carry grain in bulk. The use of large bulk carriers was instrumental in growth of bulk trade. For grain transportation handy max and panama ships are normally used, but on some occasions cape size bulk carriers are also used (Stopford, 1997). There has been rapid change in the size of the bulk fleet and with new technology and designs such as self un-loaders coming up investors have to make complex decision when ordering new ships. As can be seen from the table the bulk merchant fleet has grown from 276 m dwt in 2000 to 418 million dwt in 2009 (UNCATAD, 2009). The panamax ships have increased from 65.4 m dwt in 1999 to 121.1 m dwt in 2009 while the handy max market has increased from 45.3 m dwt in 1999 to 91.9 m dwt in 2009. (Clarkson’s, 2010 cited in Scott, 2010)

Source: (Lloyd’s Register – Fairplay cited in UNCTAD, 2009)

Fleet productivity Fleet productivity is calculated to understand the condition of the current markets. The fleets operating performance changes in response to market conditions such as E.g. If market is favourable then a grain carrier ship after completing its loaded voyage can carry cargo during its return voyages. This will increase the productivity of ships. As can be seen from the graph below the ton-mile per deadweight of the bulk fleet has not changed over the past couple of years. This is mainly because of good market conditions in the last three years.

Source: UNCTAD, 2009, p.94

Ship building production New ships added into the fleet plays an important part in the supply and demand markets. This helps to level out the demand or it can also cause oversupply of ships. New ships added into the market do not create a short term effect but it is a long term effect. For ships to be built and to deliver time taken is as much as from 6months to 4years. Hence orders for ships are placed as per the estimate demand for cargo. During the bulk carrier building boom in mid-1980’s bulk carriers had developed a dominant role in shipbuilding, which resulted in overproduction and surplus of ships. The dry-bulk market new building market has been comparatively stable as compared to the tanker markets (Stopford, 1997). The graph below shows the delivery of new build ships over the years has increased and was at its peak in 2007 and 2008 when the market was booming. This also shows that investors can be driven by market sentiments and buy ships in the current booming market at sky high prices and fail to understand that ships will be delivered after 2 to 3 years time.

Source: UNCTAD, 2009.

Scrapping The fleet size also depends upon scrapping and loss of ships. Scrapping also balances the size of fleet in the market. Scrapping of ships is mainly depended upon the market conditions and also factors such as age, scarp prices, current earnings of ships, and change in regulations (Stopford, 1997). Scrapping of ships is normally a decision made in interest of the business. The futures market is also taken into consideration when making such decision (UNCTAD, 2009). As seen from table below percentage of scrapping of ships was very less in the booming period from year 2005 to 2008 as compared to years 2000 to 2004. This clearly shows that scrapping is mainly decided according to market conditions.

Source: UNCTAD, 2009. * Vessels over 10000 dwt

Freight rates Freight rates influence the supply of sea transport. The shipping business depends upon freight rates and it is the ultimate market regulator. (Stopford, 1997) In grain trading freight rate plays an important role in the marketing chain of grain market. Grain is a bulky and low value commodity, hence transportation costs account for a substantial part of the price of grain. The ocean freight rates for grain are variable and volatile. They are not co – related with the price of grain. This is mainly because grain prices cycles are mainly driven by weather conditions, agricultural policy and general economic development (Atkin, 1995). While freight rates are derived by market conditions, supply and demand factors. One of the main factors of grain market is unlike other cargoes where geographical regions are defined grain imports are done by a range of countries with varying capacity. Hence grain markets are mainly spot charter markets, where freight rates are fixed on spot. Normally in grain trading tramp steamers are hired on a voyage charter basis. Freight rates are determined by the overall balance in supply/demand of vessels and cargo (Atkin, 1995).


World economy The worlds GDP as per statistics from IMF shows 3.9% increase for the year 2010 (Clarkson’s, 2010 cited in Scott, 2010). This is more due to the growth in emerging economies which is expected to rise by 6 percent. Advanced economies are expected to rise by 2% in 2010. Due to strength in demand from emerging economies commodity prices are expected to rise a bit (IMF, 2010).

Global Population is going to grow at an assumed average of about 1.1 percent per year. Population in developing countries are going to increase more than the population in the developed countries. With fast industrialisation and urbanisation of developing countries and increase in young population in developing countries the demand for grain is going to see and upward trend (ERSUSDA, 2008).

Seaborne commodity trade Grain production will be mainly dominated by USA followed by Argentina which is the second largest and then Canada and Australia. The world main grain exporters and importers are shown in the graphs below. Exports of grain will be dominated by USA where as Imports will be mainly from the Asia/Pacific region followed by Latin America Africa and Middle East (Genco Shipping 2010 & IGC, 2010). As per International grain council for the crop year 2009/10 wheat and coarse grain trade may fall by 17.6 million tonnes or 7% to 230.8 million tons (Scott, 2010).

Source: IGC, 2010

Source: IGC, 2010

Source: IGC, 2010

Wheat and Corn (Maize) are the major grains which are traded in the global market and they account for almost 89% of the world grain trade (IGC, 2010).

Wheat and Coarse grain outlook

Wheat crop production has touched a record high in Russia, Algeria and Australia. Also world wheat stocks in the five major exporting nations have forecasted an eight year high. As per estimates wheat imports will be reduced due to good harvest in importing countries such as Middle East and North Africa (Scott, 2010).

World’s corn harvest will remain unchanged for the year 2009/10. The projected corn trade for 2009/10 (October-September) is at 84.9 million tons which is lot lower than 2007/08 which is 101 million tons. Imports by Vietnam and China are increased slightly but it is not going to affect much in the world trade (USDA, 2010). The corn trade is going to increase because of more shipments to Canada, Brazil and Syria. Exports from Argentina and Brazil are going to increase due to good harvest. This is going to affect the USA corn exports which will be less this year (IGC, 2010). Moreover USA is using corn for industrial purpose to produce ethanol which will also have an impact on its corn exports (USDA, 2010).

Grain imports into Asia (Excluding Japan) are also expected to be slightly lower in 2009/10 by 2%. Pakistan’s imports may fall by almost 87% as compared to last year due to good domestic harvest (Scott, 2010). European Union imports will also be down by 20% because of good domestic crop availability. Middle East imports are also expected to be lower by almost 19% (Scott, 2010).

Japan imports over the years are showing a downward trend which will continue for the remaining part of the year. South Korea’s wheat and coarse grain imports may be 9% higher as there is increase in demand for feed grain (Scott, 2010).

Overall wheat and coarse grain trading is going to see a decline till the end of June 2010. This effect is mainly because of less demand for wheat in the market.

As per Scott (2010) global seaborne trade for grain will pick up from Mid-2010 onwards. Domestic crop in the northern hemisphere is the key influencing factors, because of the current growing season it is very difficult to forecast grain trade after June 2010.

Policy effects Due to rising food prices of grain over the years some countries have adopted protective policies to support their local farmers and their consumers. Some exporting countries have made restrictions on export of grain to support their internal market. Argentina, Russia and Kazakhstan have imposed tax on grain especially wheat and corn exports. China went a step further they eliminated the subsidy which was given for grain exports and have levy a tax for grain exports. Argentina and Ukraine have established quantity restrictions on wheat exports.

As export countries have taken protective measures to reduce rising grain prices in 2008, importing countries have also taken measures to reduce grain prices. Countries such as Indonesia and Serbia have reduced their import tariffs on wheat imports. This decrease in export quantity by countries and import countries subsidising tax on imports will create a surge in demand in grain market. But rising fuel cost for shipping grain will increase the price of grain (USDA, 2008).

World fleet As per Clarkson’s the world’s fleet is going to increase by 11.4 % in 2010 as compared to the last year. The handy max market is going to increase by 14.2% in 2010 from precious year and the panama market is going to increase by 7.59% in 2010. (Clarkson’s 2010 cited in Scott, 2010) This is going to create and oversupply of ships in the market. Due to the large number of ships in the new building order books, but low freight rates and demand for ships it is getting increasing difficult to project the growth of fleet ahead (Platou, 2010). Port congestion is not likely to affect the grain market in the current economic conditions.

Source: Platou report, 2010

As seen from the graph the oversupply of ships and falling demand is affecting the utilization rate of bulk carriers. As most of the grain trading is done in the spot market the oversupply of ships is going to affect the freight rates (Singh, 2009). The handy size market will not be affected by much because the growth of handy size is limited. The number of Handy size ships built in 2010 will be higher but that is likely to be offset by scrapping of ships (Clarkson’s 2010 cited in Scott, 2010). Ship Owners are also converting single hull tankers to bulk carriers because of changes in regulations in tanker markets. This is also going to increase number of ships in the market (Scott, 2010).

Shipbuilding As per Clarkson’s new ships joining the world fleet are going to increase the fleet by almost 61.9 million dwt by 2010. This is a very significant rise in deadweight to the world fleet (Clarkson’s cited in Scott, 2010). The ships whose delivery was delayed in 2009 are also going to hit the shores by 2010. Hence that may also result in rise of tonnage (Fairplay, 2010) As per estimates the new building which has been ordered have to be cut back by 40% so that the supply will balance the demand side by 2012 (Platou, 2010).

Scrapping As per Clarkson’s (2010) cited in Scott (2010) an estimated on 11 million dwt tons of ships will be scrapped in the year 2010. But scrapping of ships is mainly a function of earnings hence it will mostly depend upon the freight rates earned by ships (Platou 2010). In the handy size market in 2009 5.3 million tons was scarped and this trend is going to follow in 2010. (Scott, 2010).


The grain trade is going to experience a decline in the crop year 2009/10. This decline is mainly because of good wheat harvest in most parts of the world, coarse grain trade will be following previous trends. In addition to good harvest the surplus of ships in the market is going to lower down the freight prices in the grain spot markers. Rising fuel prices may have an effect on freight rates which may offset the cheap freights offered by ships. In the near future grain trade routes will remain the same. The production of ethanol from corn will affect the grain exports from USA, but good harvest in Argentina and Brazil will nullify the effect.

The world wheat production has a current surplus in the market which will lower down the price of wheat. Hence it is likely that in spite of surplus wheat and less demand from importing countries, importing countries may take advantage of low prices and will import more wheat and increase their wheat stock.

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