Baltic Dry Index Raises All Boats

24/7 Wall St.

Shipping rates as measured by the Baltic Dry Index are up about a third since the end of August. The index measures shipping rates for dry bulk cargoes such as grain and iron ore and is often cited as a leading indicator of economic activity.

Well, at least it used to be cited as such. The index posted an all-time high near 12,000 in May of 2008 and has never gotten closer to that number than around 4,800 a couple of years later. The index stands at 1,860 today, more than double its reading just 12 months ago.

Shipping companies like DryShips Inc. (DRYS), Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX), Genco Shipping & Trading Ltd. (GNK), Eagle Bulk Shipping Inc. (EGLE) and Safe Bulkers Inc. (SB) are getting a boost as shipping rates rise to accommodate increased demand for grain and iron ore cargoes.

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Forecast increases in Chinese steel production have raised forecasts for iron ore shipments and rising prices for corn and soybeans could hit record highs by the end of the year, raising demand -- and rates -- for bulk carriers to haul those cargoes. The spot rate for a capesize ship -- the largest bulk carriers -- today is around $36,400 a day, a far cry from the $7,000 spot rate 12 months ago. The spot rate for Panamax ships has nearly tripled, from around $3,700 a year ago to about $11,400 and the Supramax spot rate is up from $8,900 to nearly $10,000 a day.

Over the past 12 months, Eagle Bulk Shipping’s shares are up more than 300% and shares have jumped more than 83% just since the first of September. Some of that is undoubtedly due to short covering. Almost 20% of the company’s shares were short at the end of August. Nearly a quarter of Genco’s shares were short at the end of August. Short holdings on the other stocks was less than 2%.

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Of the five stocks we’ve looked at, only Safe Bulkers has a positive earnings forecast for the next few quarters. None of the others is expected to post a profit for at least another 12 months. That may change soon.

Shares of DryShips are up 8.8% in Thursday mid-afternoon trading at $3.58 after posting a new 52-week high of $3.75 earlier today. This is nice, but DryShips traded above $120 a share in late 2007.

Eagle Bulk Shipping shares are up 20.6%, at $6.49 after posting a new high of $6.84 today. The 52-week low is $1.32.

Genco shares are up 9.3%, at $4.35 in a 52-week range of $1.12 to $4.98.

Diana Shipping’s shares are up 3.3%, at $12.46 in a 52-week range of $6.45 to $13.24.

Safe Bulker’s shares are up 2.1%, at $7.16 in a 52-week range of $3.12 to $7.65.

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