Chinese seaborne imports of iron ore, coal and crude oil have all grown strongly throughout 2017.
Both seaborne imports of crude oil and iron ore have reached the highest levels ever recorded, while coal reached the highest level in three years. Imports of crude oil and coal have benefitted the shipping industry to the greatest extent as both volumes and distances have increased.
Iron ore imports breaks last year’s record
China continues to ramp up its imports of iron ore with seaborne imports growing 4.7% in 2017 compared to 2016. This amounts to a total seaborne import of 1,054 million tonnes of iron ore breaking the record of 1,006 million tonnes from the year before. China also reported the highest imported amount of iron ore for one month, in September 2017, 102.8 million tonnes - of which 101 million tonnes was transported via the sea. Total Chinese imports of Iron ore by all modes of transportation was 1,075 million tonnes in 2017, compared to 1,023 million tonnes in 2016.
BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst Peter Sand commented, “Chinese imports of iron ore have been a reliable key driver in this decade of dry bulk shipping demand growth. Not only is China repeatedly importing larger volumes, it is also sourcing most of its imported iron ore from seaborne exporters with more than 98% of the imports arriving via the sea.”
China imported 98% of its iron ore from seaborne partners in 2017, which has marginally decreased from 98.3% in 2016. The biggest exporters of iron ore to China are Australia, Brazil and South Africa. Australia is by far the largest and China imports 62% of its iron ore from Australia
. China imports 21% of its iron ore from Brazil
, which benefits the dry bulk shipping industry through long distances. South Africa is the origin for 4% of all Chinese iron ore imports.
China sourcing more coal from seaborne partners
Chinese seaborne coal imports have once again provided strong support to dry bulk shipping demand by increasing 12% in 2017, compared to 2016. In 2017 China imported a total of 228.5 million tonnes of coal via the sea compared to 204 million tonnes in 2016. China sourced 84% of all its imported coal from seaborne exporters which, compared to 80% in 2016, indicates that China is not only importing larger volumes but also substituting landborne coal with coal from seaborne exporters.
The total import of coal was 271 million tonnes in 2017, compared to 255 million tonnes in 2016. The biggest exporters of coal to China are Indonesia, Australia and Mongolia, exporting 40%, 30% and 13% respectively. The rise of US exports of coal to China is largely beneficial for the dry bulk shipping industry. The 3.1 million tonnes of coal exported from the US to China in 2017, ties tonnage on long sailing distances and thereby generates high tonne-mile demand.
BIMCO’s Chief Shipping Analyst Peter Sand commented, “The fact that Chinese imports of seaborne coal continued the growing trend seen in the second half of 2016 into 2017, provided strong support to the generally improved demand conditions in the dry bulk shipping industry.
The import of US coal is highly beneficial to the dry bulk shipping industry as it has a strong multiplying effect on demand, as it provides some of the longest possible distances. Chinese importers accept a journey of up to 45 sailing days when they import coal from Norfolk, Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland”. Chinese imports of crude oil increases in volume and distance
In April 2017, China emerged as the world’s largest importer of crude oil, as Chinese imports of crude oil had been growing at two-digit speed in both 2016 and 2017. China has imported 10% more crude oil via the sea in 2017 compared to 2016, as imports have surged to 7.8m bpd in 2017 compared to 7.1 m bpd the previous year. Total Chinese imports of crude oil, by all modes of transportation, was 8.4m bpd in 2017 exceeding the US who imported 7.9m bpd.
China is importing 93% of its crude oil via the sea, with the three biggest exporters being Russia, Saudi Arabia and Angola. Russia is the largest, as 14% of all Chinese crude oil is imported from there. Saudi Arabia exports only marginally more than Angola to China, with 12.4% of Chinese crude oil originating from Saudi Arabia and 12% from Angola
Sand said, "Not only is the Chinese seaborne import of crude oil growing strongly, but the distances are growing as well. With an average sailing distance around 7,600 nautical miles in 2017, compared to 7,100 nautical miles in 2016.
"Thereby, the crude oil tanker shipping industry is experiencing the rise in Chinese crude oil demand to the greatest extent, with the growth coming primarily from exporters in Angola, Brazil and the US,” Sand said. "Tanker demand growth in 2018 is expected to continue the trend seen in 2017, with growing imports in the Far East, and growing exports from the US. This is expected to benefit the VLCC segment the most.”