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Dry shipping is the transportation of dry cargo by ship in an enclosed container. Dry cargo includes commodities such as metal ores, coal and grains but excludes oil, gas, chemicals, etc. It is a composite shipping and trade index issued daily by the London-based Baltic Exchange. The BDI is a measure of the cost of transporting raw materials worldwide. Dry bulk cargo does not include tankers that ship oil, refined products, or chemicals; container ships; or roll-on ships, which carry vehicles that can be driven or rolled on board. The Baltic Exchange has separate indices for tankers and container ships.

Panamax ships have a 60,000 to 80,000 DWT capacity, and they’re used mostly to transport coal, grains, and minor bulk products such as sugar and cement. Panamax cargo ships require specialized equipment for loading and unloading. It is possible to trade the Baltic Dry Index using forward freight agreements, which cover various shipping routes. The Baltic exchange publishes a variety of spot freight rates, which are the basis for settling these contracts monthly. It is impossible to trade the Baltic Dry Index directly because it is not an investible index. The index can fall when the goods shipped are raw, pre-production material, which is typically an area with minimal levels of speculation.

These weights are based on the volume of cargo (in dwt) shipped on each type. Dry bulk ships account for about 22% of the global merchant fleet (Chart 1). And they account for 30% of the total value of $14 trillion of cargo shipped annually. Every working day, a panel of international shipbrokers submits their assessment of the current freight cost on various routes to the Baltic Exchange.

Second, OPEC (for the most part) has worked to keep oil supply growth roughly in line with growth in demand. This allows refiners and shippers to increase the supply of dirty and clean tankers as volumes grow. Third, tankers have some ability to switch from dirty to clean cargos and vice versa, as supply/demand dynamics shift within the dirty and clean sectors.

At that time, the Baltic Dry Index was surging and reached an all-time record high of 11,793 points, suggesting robust global growth and smooth sailing ahead. However, the cracks in the global economy were already beginning to form elsewhere that simply weren’t indicated by looking at the index. In this case, it almost became a lagging indicator as within six months the index had dropped by 94% to just 663 points. Investors and the financial press pay far more attention to the BDI than to other freight indices.

The BDI predicted the 2008 recession in some measure when prices experienced a sharp drop. Then, into 2021, the BDI rose dramatically as the pandemic led to snarls and delays in global shipping. Stock prices increase when the global market is healthy and growing, and they tend to decrease when it’s stalled or dropping. The index is reasonably consistent because it depends on black-and-white factors of supply and demand without much in the way of influences such as unemployment and inflation. Capesize boats are the largest ships in the BDI with 100,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT) or greater. Its history and inner workingsThe Baltic Dry Index traces its roots back a couple hundred years to when merchants gathered in London establishments to regulate trade and formalize the exchange of securities.

There have been brief periods when the Capesize index dropped below zero, implying that shippers were losing money to keep their ships busy. The BDI jumped six-fold last year as the global economy recovered from the Covid slowdown, spurring a sudden demand for raw materials. Meanwhile, congested ports meant that bulk carriers had to wait weeks or more to load and unload cargo, effectively curtailing the supply of available ships.

Founded in 1993, The Motley Fool is a financial services company dedicated to making the world smarter, happier, and richer. The Motley Fool reaches millions of people every month through our premium investing solutions, free guidance and market analysis on, top-rated podcasts, and non-profit The Motley Fool Foundation. There is a fourth smaller class of ships, Handysize, Swing trading strategies but the BDI index does not include them. There are also various sub-classes of ships within these broad categories designed to be compatible with the Suez Canal and various ports worldwide. The index can be accessed on a subscription basis directly from the Baltic Exchange as well as from some financial information and news services such as Bloomberg and Reuters.

  1. The most direct instrument is forward freight agreements, which cover various shipping routes.
  2. The BDI predicted the 2008 recession in some measure when prices experienced a sharp drop.
  3. The shipping quotes are combined into the overall index with a 40% weighting for Capesize, and 30% each for Panamex and Supramax.
  4. The index can be accessed on a subscription basis directly from the Baltic Exchange as well as from some financial information and news services such as Bloomberg and Reuters.
  5. For example, when times are good, shippers are flush with cash that is, more often than not, spent on new ships.

Today, the Index is based on a daily panel of shipbrokers that submit their view of the current freight cost for various routes to the Baltic Exchange. The routes are representative, cover four different sizes of dry bulk ships, and are weighted together. The result is an assessment measuring the demand for shipping capacity against the supply of ships. Because it measures shipping capacity demand, it is considered a leading economic indicator because demand for capacity increases as the global economy expands and contracts along with a recession. Baltic Dry Index is a shipping and trade index issued daily by the London-based Baltic Exchange.

What Is the Baltic Dry Index?

After all, when demand for some raw materials rises, there will usually be a higher demand for shipping bulk commodities. There is academic work that suggests that commodity prices do help drive the BDI, at least in the short run. Coal, along with iron ore, is one of the most traded dry bulk commodities by volume in the world. Countries most involved in the importation of coal for their primary energy and electricity needs are India, China, and Japan. Grain is another major cargo in terms of seaborne dry bulk trade and accounts for a chunk of the total dry bulk trade worldwide. The Baltic Exchange calculates the index by assessing multiple shipping rates across more than 20 routes for each of the BDI component vessels.

While the Baltic Dry Index is a well-known leading economic indicator, it can sometimes be misleading.

Tankers can be loaded or unloaded within a day or so and prepared for a new voyage within days. Dry bulk ships require a week or more to load or unload cargo, and it can take weeks to clean and prepare a ship for new cargo. In 1985, the Baltic Exchange started compiling the Baltic Freight Index for dry bulk cargo on defined ocean routes.

→ How to trade the Baltic Dry Index?

Analyzing multiple geographic shipping paths for each index gives depth to the index’s composite measurement. Members contact dry bulk shippers worldwide to gather their prices and they then calculate an average. If “Baltic Dry Index” sounds a bit like something from a bygone era, you wouldn’t be too far off.

In addition to dry bulk cargo, the Baltic Exchange is also active in a wide range of other types of cargo, including tankers, container ships, and even air freight. It takes an assessment of nearly two dozen major shipping routes to gauge the rate of ships carrying dry commodity goods like coal, iron ore, and grain. When shipping rates are down due to slowing demand for commodities, it pulls the index lower.

This is because the index should increase as demand for shipping capacity rises, which should happen as an economy begins to heal from a downturn. While it shouldn’t be the only sign investors look for, it can be combined with other indicators to signal that the worst is finally over. The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) is a shipping freight-cost index issued daily by the London-based Baltic Exchange. The BDI is a composite of the Capesize, Panamax and Supramax timecharter averages. It is reported around the world as a proxy for dry bulk shipping stocks as well as a general shipping market bellwether. Dry bulk cargo is commodities that are shipped in loose unpackaged form.

The routes are meant to be representative, i.e. large enough in volume to matter for the overall market. Various futures exchanges also offer freight futures contracts, including the European Energy Exchange and the Singapore Exchange. Over the years, the Baltic Exchange started publishing subindices for each of the BDI vessel types (Charts 3a,b). The Panamex Index debuted in early 2000, followed by Capesize in 2014 and Supramax/Handymax in 2017. It is a large bulk carrier that usually has five cargo holds and deck cranes.