NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With the fortunes of the dry-bulk shipping industry increasingly tied to China -- and specifically to the Chinese steel industry -- investors have been looking to the People's Republic for insight into the shares of those companies that haul the stuff that feed the furnances of the world's biggest steel producer.
Since suffering a severe correction in the late summer and early fall, steel prices have strengthened recently -- Chinese domestic rebar prices, for instance, hit a three-month high last week -- and this has given the dry-bulk sector hope that shipping rates will remain stable, at least in the near term.
Share prices in the dry-bulk maritime business have advanced in response, with
Eagle Bulk Shipping
Genco Shipping & Trading
all rising sharply last week (though most of these names were lower on Monday.)
But there are concerns, of course. For one thing, it's clear that Chinese steel production may soon outstrip demand for the stuff, if it hasn't already. The country's very own industry trade group, the China Iron & Steel Association, said as much two weeks ago, when it predicted 2009 steel output of 565 million metric tons, higher than forecasted demand of 549 million tons.
A resulting drop in steel prices is the obvious fear. Some have also worried about China dumping steel in the U.S. -- enough to have convinced U.S. authorities to impose anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese steel.
Other observers have dismissed these worries. A
Monday, partly because he feels that exports out of China won't find their way to the U.S. The analyst also believes that demand for steel in China itself will be strong enough to absorb much of that supply.
What does this all mean for the dry-bulk carriers that haul the world's iron ore to the world's steel mills? Rising steel prices are widely seen as an important support for dry-bulk shipping rates, and so we asked readers of
: Will prices for Chinese steel remain firm enough to lift rates -- and shipping stock prices -- into the beginning of next year?
Judging by these particular survey results, our audience is a bullish one. Nearly 78% of the poll's voters registered a positive outlook by voting "yes."
-- Written by Scott Eden in New York
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Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.