But fears of a coming oversupply may turn out to be just that: Fears. (One thinks of Y2K or, hopefully, 2012.) At least one sell-side stock analyst, anyway, thinks all the glut talk is much ado about nothing.
In a research note sent to clients on Jan. 27, Dahlman Rose's Omar Nokta appeared to stake a contrarian position. Bullish on the
, Nokta said investors ought to pay more attention to the demand side of the equation, which of course means China and its desire for iron ore.
As for supply, Nokta is predicting that ship buyers will cancel or delay a huge number of dry-bulk vessels ordered back during the flush boom years and slated for delivery in 2010. Citing a shipyard database complied by Clarkson's, the British ship broker, Nokta said that 355 capesize vessels -- the largest dry-bulk carriers in the world -- are scheduled to hit the water this year. That would increase the number of capesize ships in existence (about 950) by about 37%.
But Nokta, according to his own research, believes that around 155 of those orders -- or nearly 44% -- will be either delayed or canceled outright. That's extremely bullish. Other analysts have said that it's more likely that ship buyers will kill just 20% of the total 2010 dry-bulk orderbook, either through delay or cancellation. Still others have demurred when asked to offer a forecast, saying that it's just too unpredictable.
"While the overall pace of deliveries is expected to increase during 2010, we continue to believe that demand will be the major factor influencing rates with supply taking a back seat," Nokta wrote.
Nokta, who works for Dahlman Rose, a boutique investment bank in New York that focuses on commodities-related industries, forecasts average capesize rates in 2010 of $45,000 a day. The "wild card," he says, remains China and whether the nation's steel industry will keep buying iron ore on the spot market as opposed through a fixed-price contract with the likes of Brazil's
( RTP). If China's mills go back to a fixed model, it will boost volumes for dry-bulk shippers, and thus demand for their services.
Nokta favors the shares of three dry-bulk stocks:
Genco Shipping & Trading
Dry-bulk stocks ended Wednesday mixed. The New York Stock Exchange-listed issues of Diana and Navios were up marginally -- 0.2% and 0.6%, respectively -- while Genco fell 2.3% to $21.03.
Shares of fan favorite
declined 0.8% to $5.91, while
Eagle Bulk Shipping
edged higher by a penny to $5.26.
Eagle shares advanced sharply on Monday after they received an upgrade from Cantor Fitzgerald shipping analyst Natasha Boyden.
In her quarterly earnings preview and 2010 outlook for the shipping industry -- most companies release results in early and mid February -- Boyden appeared to be damning with faint praise more than anything else. She lifted her rating on Eagle stock to hold from sell and increased her price target by a buck to $5, which is nonetheless below the current price of an Eagle share.
As if in response to all the talk about the burgeoning supply of newly built vessels, Eagle, based in New York, also announced Monday that it took delivery of two freshly commissioned supramax-size ships (weighing in at about 57,000 deadweight tons each).
Interestingly, Eagle chartered one of the ships on a single-year contract that ties its rate to the fluctuations of the spot market, as gauged by the Baltic Dry Index, which represents a bullish bet on the short-term strength of the shipping industry.
-- 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.