Trading activity in the Azov-Black Sea region began to decline again, but this fact does not particularly affect freight rates, as they already are on the fringes of profitability. Most Owners continue to search for cargo on a long distance amid hopes for combining a direct voyage with a back haul. Firstly, such strategy would increase the transit time, which would allow Owners to wait through of the low season, and secondly, it would allow keeping variability in regard to cargoes not only from the Azov Sea. In the meantime, on 21-22 weeks it is expected to open a large number of vessels which have been loaded on May holidays, and now returning for cargoes to the Azov Sea, so market insiders predict an increase in spot tonnage in the region.
Many Owners, whose fleet opens at the end of the month, are looking for voyages to bypass Turkey in order not to be trapped on Eid al-Fitr. On the 23rd week, Turks and Turkish banks will not work from Tuesday to the end of the week, which can lead to long delays at ports, difficulties with money transfers and low business activity generally, so Owners will be ready to make concessions on voyages to other destinations.
The Caspian market continues to decline, the problem with payments from Iran has not yet been solved, and there are no prognoses relating to the end of its settlement. This fact makes many Shippers to look for new contractors and try to sell goods through the major international Traders who still have options to trade with Iran. According to information from Shippers, the number of direct contracts with Iranian importers is close to zero, or they have to agree to long delays in payments, which can negatively affect the turnover and the ability to buy new crops in the required volumes at the forefront of the new season.
State trading corporation of Iran announced that the wheat harvest in the country is expected to reach 11 million tons. This means that Iran will not import wheat this year either. Only corn and barley will continue to be shipped to Iran mainly. However, in the light of the problems with payments from the Iranian side, the freight flow of corn and barley may slow down, which will inhibit the growth of freight rates in the Caspian region.
Average prices for domestic wheat of the new crop are growing against the background of poor yield in the United States and of concerns about the quality of American winter crops. At the beginning of the new season we can expect an increased demand for wheat from Russia and as a result, a growing demand for the fleet, which can lead to sharp spikes in rates in mid-July.
During the reporting week, in the Azov market there has been observed an increase in business activity, which slightly pushed the rates up. This is mainly due to the upcoming long holidays in Russia. Shippers were trying to find vessels for the next dates and to make shipment before the holidays, amid hopes to get payment for the goods without any latency. Also, the market was influenced by the factor of increasing the goods nomenclature in the region, where there were new offers for shipment of pig iron and fertilizers, in addition to grain and coal. All of these things contributed to the growth of freight rates of USD 1-2.
Many market insiders are placing their stack on the fact that freight in the Caspian and Azov regions will seriously decline in the next two weeks. The key reason for this will be the long May holidays in Russia, during which the shippers would prefer to take a break and to go back to work in full force only from May the 13th. There are expected the overabundance of spot tonnage and subsequent reduction of rates.
The demand for the coastal fleet, which has been used to work for transshipment within recent years, remains pretty weak, therefore the tonnage employed on such voyages is looking for alternative work from the river. In this regard, many Charterers, made shipments from the ports of Volga, change carrying with direct conventional vessels of river-sea type for shipments with coasters to sea ports and further transshipment at Rostov or Astrakhan. On the average, this reduces the cost by 5 USD and at the same time does not allow the river market to grow, despite the full opening of navigation on inland waterways.
The new sanctions against Iran issued by the United States play an important role in the Caspian region. Shipments of many Charterers almost stopped, because there are no payments from Iranian importers for almost half a month, so the Merchants have to deliver the cargoes with large delays in payment, which at long last has a strong impact on working assets and does not allow them to buy new volumes. According to information from some Traders, this situation with the transfer of funds may change for the better in the first week of May, and then in the Caspian region is expected to increase the demand for the fleet and the growth of freight rates after the holidays, but so far it remains at the level of rumors.
Due to the lack of interesting cargo offers from the river to Iran many Owners consider transit cargo as an alternative from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. As a reminder, at the beginning of the navigation a fair amount of contracts were concluded for the export of lots of urea from Turkmenistan to the Black Sea, but today this flow is almost frozen due to problems with shipments at the new Turkmenian plant. Owners, moved out their fleet on the Caspian Sea with the express purpose of taking this cargo, are now in pitch, because part of the fleet is being cancelled, and there are no sufficient offers from the river and the Caspian Sea at the moment. Generally speaking, the increased number of fleet is weighing rates in the region down.
The leading role in the fleet disposition was played by the foul weather conditions in the Kerch Strait during the reporting week. The essential part of the fleet was idle waiting for passage about three days. This fact can now lead to delays in arrivals to ports of loading for the next voyages, as well as to congestion in the ports of discharge. Market insiders opine that this factor will not significantly influence the rates, because the amount of cargo orders remains in scarce supply, and the volume of spot tonnage has not been decreasing for several weeks. Some Charterers faced with vessels’ delays, and now they are urgently seek replacements in order to make shipment before the May holidays. Otherwise, they risk getting penalties due to non-compliance with the terms of shipments, because phytosanitary structures will be closed during the May holidays, and it will be problematic to issue the necessary documents.
Rates in the Azov Sea stopped to decline. The main driver of stabilization of the freight market was the approaching end of the month. Many Charterers, who made their deals with delivery on April dates, preferred not to take risks and close their positions on guaranteed dates, which did not leave them much room for trading. Generally the Azov market remains on the Charterers’ side, and part of the river-sea fleet, now equally considering the cargoes from Azov Sea ports and Black Sea ports, since the level of freight rates is comparable in both regions so far.
The navigation on the inland waterways in the Volga region opens completely on the 17th week. Such ports as Togliatti, Samara, Ulyanovsk become available for loading and discharge. The demand for tonnage from these regions is now keeping mainly in the direction of the Caspian region. Market insiders are expecting the rates for voyages from the river should catch a bid due to increased variability in ports of loading.
There has been observed an increase in the volume of grain purchased in the Russian Federation for subsequent export to Iran with shipments from the Astrakhan, Saratov and Volgograd regions. Such heightened interest in the Iranian market is explained by weather conditions. In mid-April the Iranian National Crisis Management Centre reported a forecasting drought in the summer season. It is unlikely that its own crop will be able to assure the domestic market of Iran, without mentioning Iranian flour mills, which were only half loaded with its own goods even in the harvest years. Therefore, we expect not only an increase in the number and volume of barley, corn and rapeseed shipments in the near future, but also the possible lifting of the wheat embargo.
Freight market in the Azov region remains low.
According to figures provided by the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, the total quantity of transshipped grain in the ports of Azov Sea decreased by about 36 percent in the first quarter of 2019 in comparison with the same period of 2018. In absolute terms, this is 5,33 million tons in 2019 against 8,33 million in 2018.
It is noteworthy that according to our statistics, freight rates also dropped in direct proportion and lost about 30 percent. If on the 15th week of 2018 freight rates were on average USD 26 per ton of wheat on the voyages Rostov – Marmara, then on the 15th week of 2019 rates are being kept at USD 18.
From the perspective of Traders, up to date there is a high demand for grain in the domestic market, especially in the Central Federal region, which significantly holds back export sales and makes domestic grain uncompetitive in the world markets due to its high price. Many Exporters admit that they have already closed the current grain season, and plan to return to activity only in July. Yet the closer to the new crop, the faster will become cheaper grain harvest of 2018. The falling grain market will force producers to sell cheaper products, which can allow Traders to make new deals. In its turn, this should assert positive influence over freight rates, owing to the emerging of new volumes on the market.
Despite the opening of navigation on inland water-ways on the Volga and on the Don, now rates are aiming for two-year minimum. Many Charterers admit that it is extremely difficult to sell wheat to Marmara from Rostov in light of rates above USD 17 per ton. Moreover, Turkish buyers began to refuse purchases more often due to the high volatility of their national currency.
Currently the flow of general transit cargo to the Caspian Sea and to the Volga is on the rise. Today the tonnage supply significantly exceeds the amount of cargo orders, which allows Charterers to employ vessels at favorable rates for them with the ability to take the appropriate tonnage and on wide dates. Owners working in transit and having the need to return their fleet to the Caspian Sea, have to be more flexible in negotiations to avoid ballast passages.
Most of the requested indications in the Caspian region fall on summer dates. This means that the peak of demand in Russian vessels for general cargo may be coincident with the peak of the grain season, which this year is expected to be higher than last year, as judged by the planned harvest. This abundance of offers will give a nudge Owners to even more inflated expectations and rates respectively.
Unlike the Azov market, the Caspian market is still holding its position. The reasons for this are the high demand for grain from Iran after the local holidays, as well as the high demand for tonnage from Charterers planning to send fertilizers from Turkmenistan to the Black Sea. Freight in the Caspian region attracts more and more tonnage from the Azov Sea, which in the near future may lead to overabundance and subsequent reduction of rates.
Many market insiders are wary of the news about the inclusion by the US of Islamic revolutionary guard corps, which is actually the Iranian regular army, as terrorist organizations. Traders are afraid of further possible complications in settlement payments with Iranian importers, whose payments have been delayed lately as it is.
After the official opening of the navigation on the 1st of April 2019, most of the vessels with the Russian flag began to work in transit to Iran from Azov ports and elevators of the Volga-don Canal to Iran in the absence of a fair number of general project cargo. Due to the increase in the number of tonnage in the region many market insiders predict the reduction of rates for Astrakhan and from river to Iran, so Charterers are in no hurry to fix the fleet on long-term dates.
At the same time Russian Exporters note a significant revival of the Iranian market upon completion of the holidays. Most in demand is barley, which is not much left in the Caspian region, and Traders are inventing new schemes for the transit of cargoes from ports of the Black Sea. The low season allows many of them to achieve favorable cargo offers, as well as favorable freight rates, therefore the demand for the transit fleet is high. However, many Owners remain wary of such voyages in view of the risk of getting on sanction lists, so they prefer to transit cargo to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, even at low rates.
Owners interested in voyages from river to the Black Sea, have difficulty with search of the cargoes: many of the elevators still have not begun operations; some of them are only starting to accumulate volumes. The highest activity is shown by Charterers that are planning shipments from the outermost river ports, such as Togliatti and Samara, but according to reports from local exporters, ice is still present partially on the river, so shipments from over there are planned only for the beginning of May. As a result, Owners of the Russian fleet, who don’t call Iranian ports, are continuing to make voyages from Azov ports amid hopes to find a profitable transit cargo from the Black Sea.
There were no significant changes in the Azov market in comparison with the last week. The workable rate for wheat from Rostov to Samsun is currently at USD 15 per ton for spot shipments. As a rule on falling market, most in demand are long-haul voyages: to make such deal is more easily at the present moment. Customary for the region, Owners are slow to react to the market decline, therefore they are trying to collect best offers and postpone firm negotiations and fixing till spot dates.
The difficult economic and political situation in Turkey has led to a decrease in the business activity of local Importers. It is expected that the firm interest for delivery of grain from the Turkish side will strengthen closer to the beginning of May. In view of this, during the stabilization of the situation in the Republic (March – early April 2019), shipments to Turkey fell almost by one half in comparison with the same period last year. Nevertheless currently the main reason for holding back of number of sales contracts is the growth of grain prices in the domestic market of the Russian Federation.
As anticipated, the freight market in the Azov region sank under pressure of large amount of spot tonnage during the 13th week. Freight rates for Turkish destinations decreased by $ 2-3 per ton.
The lack of cargo stems from the high volatility of the Turkish lira and the local elections to the city’s parliaments in the largest Turkish cities. Under conditions of uncertainty importers chose to suspend procurement programs, which significantly affected the supply of cargoes on the market. As a consequence, Owners had to accept lower rates in order to keep fleet turnaround and to avoid downtime.
Owners interested in voyages from river to the Black Sea faced the number of problems. First of all, ice is still standing partially in the regions located above Volgograd, therefore river elevators are planning the launch only in mid-April. In the Samara region navigation may be delayed until the end of April or the beginning of May. Secondly, according to unofficial information, fleet will not be allowed to pass through the area from Rostov to Volgodonsk due to ongoing repair of the Bagaevskiy hydroelectric complex on and from the 1st of April. Official prospects are expected by the middle of the 14th week.
In the Caspian region there has been some rebound associated with renewed activity of Iranian buyers. The average market rates of river ports began to be determined, where there was almost no firm work over the past few weeks, and Charterers only made plans because of the lack of importers in the market. In addition to it, many Charterers, who sold their lots during the Iranian holidays, have not received payment from the receivers yet, which doesn’t allow them to purchase new lots for export. On the whole the increase in demand for fleet in the region remains steady, such that some Owners will relocate their fleet to the Caspian region, using the “transit” grain voyages from Don to Iran. Due to the high demand for such voyages, their rates are growing more slowly compared to shipments from the ports on the Volga River.
During the previous week freight improvement on the Azov’s region has stopped, owing to weakening fleet demand, especially with prompt opening dates. As market participants advise, currently French and Canadian wheat is market’s favorite and latest Turkish tender shall be covered by foreign wheat and corn, which is more preferable than Russian price-wise. All this made a heavy impact on Azov’s market, being highly dependent on Turkish Buyers. Rates are not crumbling though, due to Owners, still high from recent freight growth, are trying to push market up, leaving only few successful fixtures actually done. Week 13-th may see spot tonnage numbers at large.
According to current fleet demand for shipments ex River it seems that now supply is overpowered. Most of river cargoes with Black Sea destination have already been covered well before the laycan dates, which bar any rates growth. Price on goods at river elevators is too high, compared to Sea ports, and it will take some time before Sellers make themselves comfortable with market conditions and start making deals in line with realistic prices.
As major analytic agencies declare, potential harvest in Russia may yield 9 000 000 mts of grains more than previous season. Favorable weather conditions along with improving infrastructure of major producing regions being the main cause. Therefore, April-May perhaps shall provide us with increased trading activity, as Producers will try to sell-off as much carry-overs as possible prior to high season.
Tonnage demand for transit cargoes ex Med and Black Seas towards Caspian area is almost nill. Major players are still developing their programmes. Single shipments were done though, with small parcels waiting at transit ports even from year 2018, which due to some reasons were late to pass the early closure of locks on Don River. Several Owners of sea-river vessels are partly repositioning their fleet to ARAG region, foreshadowing the excessive fleet demand for general cargoes destined to Russian inland and Kazakhstan.
Lack of transit parcels also lead to freight decline on Iranian destination. In the absence of competition Charterers of grains are trying to force their vision of workable rates on Ship Owners, which consider Caspian direction. As we’ve heard, there were few fixtures ex Rostov and Azov’s port to Caspian Sea with rates only 3-4$ more than Astrakhan rates. Those Owners, who contracted urea transportation ex Turkmenistan, are now compelled to dump rates in order to escape ballast leg, which have a negative impact on the market.
Traders consider corn to become ‘number one’ commodity on Caspian market before high season starts, as barley stocks are thinned-out. Most lucrative corn offers are currently done basis FOB-Astrakhan and FOB-Makhachkala, sourcing ex Krasnodar region. This may decimate fleet demand ex River ports, wherein ship parcels are ready only on few elevators.
Nowruz influences Iranian market participants – it dramatically slows the local trade. A substantial part of fleet is idle awaiting discharge at Iran, while new contracts are not concluding.
On the previous week Azov’s area has been highlighted by appearance of spot tonnage in quite substantial amount. Main reason for it is recent fulfilment of Kavkaz lighterage contracts by several regional Owners. The fact that fleet supply strengthens mislead Traders into attempts to pull the rates downwards, wherein freight growth has been only slowed, as tonnage demand still has the upper hand.
FOB Russian ports grain prices have continued to decline, to which market participants have already accustomed. Deep Sea ports suffer more, as prices drop faster there (approximately 5 usd per week, compared to shallow ports). Nevertheless, Shippers hope for soonest recovery in the light of new tenders by Tunisia, Algeria and Bangladesh, who traditionally buy Russian grains via bigger tonnage. Sea-river fleet Owners are also positive regarding short-term market conditions, considering the latest Turkish tender, which largely won by Charterers, working ex Azov’s ports.
According to market participants, current low grain trading activity caused by low carryover stocks of wheat. Officially, they’ve hit 5-years low numbers, therefore a lot of producers are holding their remaining volumes, troubled by uncertainty of quality and quantity of forthcoming crop.
Caspian trade activity has lowered, owing to Nowruz. Due to lack of cargo orders ex Astrakhan, Owners consider fixing voyages from River ports, which are not in abundance either. Pre-carriage to River elevators is being complicated by usual for this time of the year road drying, so it is expected that leaders in terms of fleet demand upon the beginning of navigation shall be Charterers who failed to ship their full volumes within previous navigation. We expect Dubovka, Volgograd elevator and new elevator in Tatyanka to perform the most river shipments as navigation starts.
During the 9-th week an ongoing sharp decline of Azov’s freight market has stopped. Many vessels have suffered severe delays on passing Bosporus due to unfavorable weather conditions. So, in some cases time lost summed up to 5 days. Major part of this fleet had faced Charterers’ refuse to grant extension, in favor of spot and thus cheaper tonnage. Owners of cancelled vessels do not exercise any hurried attempts to fix new voyages, as FOB prices are dropping followed by seemingly increased variety of cargo orders, which in turn holds market at previous week level. Shall the region settle in today’s balance or not, the next week will tell: Traders consider commodities prices to be far from the bottom and expect fall to continue.
Ice campaign has been officially cancelled on 28 of February on the Azov Sea. Theoretically this should pull the freight market down, owing to inflow of vessels employed ex Black Sea ports during the wintering. But considering the current freight-wise rivalry of both basins, there is no point expecting any notable fleet supply increase on the Azov. With the abolishment of ice restrictions ADSC shall again become the waiting place for idle tonnage instead of Kerch. Therefore, Charterers working ex Temryuk are compelled to be thorough in their search of spot vessels, as upon north-bound Kerch passing Owners are reluctant to return to Temryuk for loading.
Mild weather gives ground to expect earlier than usual start of navigation. River may become accessible even in mid-late March, which shall make positive impact on current market owing to following main reasons:
1. A new season for river ports shall begin. With ingress of additional volumes into both lichterage program and direct voyages to Azov and Caspian destinations will grow in terms of fleet demand.
2. Transit cargoflow will return to the market. As we see, demand on general cargo shipments ex Black Sea to Caspian area increases year-by-year and even now Charterers are actively planning their programmes. Those Owners who are interested have already adjusted trade of their fleet in order to provide openings at most convenient places to pick up well-paid project cargoes.
New nitrogen fertilizers-producing plant is expected to reach full power in Turkmenistan during this year, which shall dramatically increase throughput of transit cargo ex Caspian region. Ship Owners consider this new cargoflow to achieve likewise potency as ‘common’ grain voyages ex Volga ports to NIP or to Turkey, all the more so as substantial part of local Owners have decided to completely avoid calling Iran out of fear of potential sanctions from USA.
Caspian market has seen improved fleet demand during the previous week. Charterers are actively trying to close the deals for each of their open positions before the coming of Novruz, in order to avoid additional storage costs and also to lower the risks of prices drop after the Iranian New Year. Therefore, freight rates are basically keeping the same level. It is expected, that in the light of holidays any Traders activity will be kept at minimum and in the mid of March, right before the start of navigation, tonnage demand along with rates may decline, albeit not for long, to current years’ all time low numbers.
Freight rates decline continues on the Azov Sea, while the main driver is still unfavorable situation on the commodities market. Turkish buyers are cutting the prices, following the declining lira. Concluding of new contracts becomes trickier as spread between buying and selling prices narrows. In the light of outstanding price on goods of Russian origin several buyers were compelled to develop other sources. Traders say, technically they are comfortable working with Russia, furthermore quality of goods is out of question, but current price level renders other aspects irrelevant as commercial part fails. So, nowadays major part of grains destined to Turkey is sourced ex West Black Sea: Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary, wherein Ukrainian producers shown most notable flexibility price-wise.
Aside from grave stillness of Russian inner grain market, export paces were halted by increased tariffs on pre-carriage of goods. Therefore most of the shipments performed now are ‘odds and ends’ of previously concluded contracts. Positive news regarding FOB-Azov grains price decline (about 7$ during 8-th week) surprisingly had no beneficial impact on the market. Importers are waiting for continuation of decrease and are not in a hurry to purchase. Considering the recent price surge, market participants expect this started decline shall proceed with similar haste.
Ice conditions in the Azov region are quite favorable for this calendar period. Almost no problems were reported in connection with berthing or with delays awaiting ice-breaker support. Nevertheless only a few Ship Owners are willing to employ their fleet on voyages ex Rostov ‘after the bridge’ terminals, except those bound for discharge there. So, the Charterers who decided to save on transshipment (‘after the bridge’ terminals generally charge less) may face difficulties finding suitable tonnage even on current oversupplied market.
Rates decline goes on within Black Sea as much as in the Azov area. According to local Traders, freight for Handy-size segment had already hit the bottom, leaving only improvement as an option, which is anticipated. Main reason for it is greater mobility of bigger tonnage, allowing them to change regions more easily, compared to coasters and especially to sea-river vessels. Therefore, deflux of unwanted fleet may alone improve the rates level.