(Updates with Platou report starting in fifth paragraph.)
Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Hire rates for Panamaxes, the biggest commodity-carrying ships to navigate the Panama Canal, jumped the most in more than 2 1/2 years on speculation demand is strengthening in China.
Daily average charter costs gained 7.6 percent, the most since June 2009, to $6,604, according to the London-based Baltic Exchange. Rates are up 22 percent in four sessions. The Baltic Dry Index, a broader gauge of costs to transport dry-bulk raw materials, rose 2.4 percent to 676.
The index had its worst-ever start to a year in January, plunging 61 percent as the fleet expanded amid speculation Chinese buyers were curbing purchases before and during the Lunar New Year holiday. Markets in the Asian nation, the largest global user of commodities from soybeans to copper, were closed for a week starting Jan. 23.
“Chinese buyers are coming back with orders,” said Nigel Prentis, research director at HSBC Shipping Services Ltd. in London. “Rates withered while China was absent. We are heading for a significant upside from the current very low base.”
Seaborne trade in dry-bulk commodities may rise as much as 6 percent in 2012, analysts led by Frode Morkedal at Oslo-based RS Platou Markets AS said in an e-mailed report. Vessels hauling iron ore, soybeans and forest products will likely make longer voyages as South American exports to Asia gain, they said.
Greater distances add to so-called ton-mile demand, gauged by multiplying the amount of cargo by journey length. They also tie up vessels for longer periods, effectively curbing the supply of ships.
Still, the dry-bulk fleet is likely to swell faster than demand this year, said Platou. It estimated capacity gains at about 138 million deadweight tons, compared with 96 million tons in 2011. Demand is set to outpace the fleet’s growth next year, according to the analysts.
“In 2013, we expect the fleet expansion to be in the region of 6 to 7 percent, while tonnage demand is likely to increase somewhat quicker, resulting in increasing capacity utilization and thereby higher freight rates,” Platou said.
Earnings for the four ship classes in the index may advance as much as threefold by June, according to HSBC’s Prentis. This year’s slump was exaggerated by weaker Chinese demand, he said.
“Rates got to such low levels that it’s natural to expect a bounce,” Prentis said.
Panamaxes are the second-largest ship type in the index. Average daily rates for Capesizes, the biggest iron-ore carriers, slipped 0.2 percent to $5,233 after gaining yesterday for the first time since Dec. 16.
Supramax vessels, about 25 percent smaller than Panamaxes, added 2.2 percent to $6,485. Handysizes, the smallest ships tracked by the exchange, fell 0.5 percent to $5,517.
--Editors: Dan Weeks, John Deane.
To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Sheridan in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alaric Nightingale at email@example.com