Skip to main content

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Last week, the manufacturing-and-transportation supply chain that transforms rock in the earth into steel inside buildings and cars and refrigerators and the like underwent a major revolution that will have an impact on each point in that chain.

The shipping companies that transport the iron ore and the coking coal to the steelmakers of the world are, of course, caught right smack in the middle of the revolution, like some petite bourgeoisie in 1789 France.

In what appears to be a fait accompli at this point, the world's three biggest iron ore miners --

BHP Billiton

(BBL) - Get BHP Group Plc Report


Rio Tinto

( RTP) and


(VALE) - Get Vale SA Report

-- will soon sell their rocks and pellets and fines to steelmakers in Asia and Europe based on a quarterly system linked to the spot market. Gone is the old annual system in which the miners would ink supply deals with their customers, locking in ore prices for a year. (A small portion -- the leftovers -- would then trade on the spot market.)

Though the whole world will be affected by the changes, the drama played out as contest between the mining giants and China, whose steel industry has exploded to become the largest in the world as the furnaces roar to produce steel to service a billion-plus population.

Specifics on exactly how the new pricing system will work remain unclear, but the results

could be fiscally troubling for the ship owners

, depending no how tightly the new contracts are linked to the spot market.

Every big name in the dry-bulk sector has a stake in the iron-ore sea changes, from

Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends


(DRYS) - Get DryShips Inc. Report


Diana Shipping

(DSX) - Get Diana Shipping Inc. Report


Genco Shipping & Trading

(GNK) - Get Genco Shipping & Trading Ltd Report


Eagle Bulk Shipping

(EGLE) - Get Eagle Bulk Shipping Inc Report


Excel Maritime



Before the outcome of this year's sea-change negotiation, we

asked those readers of TheStreet

who have a financial interest in the dry-bulk sector: What's best for the shipping business? The long-term status quo? Some kind of quarterly contract? Or a shift that brings the trade of iron ore close to the spot market, ala copper?

Participants in our poll, it turns out, voted overwhelmingly with reality: 48% believed that a quarterly contract, with its implied compromise between steelmakers and miners, would represent the best outcome for those with a stake in shipping profits.

The status quo, in which the annual pricing system remained intact, drew 37.7% of the vote. (As we now know, the status quo has been blown apart, and there's almost certainly no way to go back.)

Those survey takers who selected this option agree with the likes of Dahlman Rose shipping analyst Omar Nokta, who has argued that the longer the duration of iron-ore pricing arrangements, the better it is for bulk cargo demand.

It's not surprising, then, that a clear minority of poll participants -- about 14.3% -- chose the pure spot market as their iron-ore pricing regime of choice.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York


>>China Steel Group Urges Iron Ore Boycott

>>Iron Ore Upheaval Reaches U.S.

>>BHP, Vale Blow Up Iron-Ore Pricing System

>>Iron Ore Sea Change to Hit Dry Bulk

Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining, 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.