Along with Dugan’s reported year-to-date and total tonnage statistics, there is another yearly increase in steel imports that can be directly attributed to Mother Nature. Dugan elaborated on how and why it occurs, and the annual benefits it creates.

“In the winter months – specifically the end of December through March – we see a 50% spike in imports through the Camden terminals, which we call our ‘Winter Steel Program.’ The spike occurs when the St. Lawrence River freezes over, which creates closures for shipping in that area. As the result of the closures, we get more steel imports in Camden that we send via truck and rail to the Midwest, with many products intended to support the automotive industry.”

But the spike in steel at SJPC is just part of the overall trend for steel and steel products. The Worldsteel Association in April released its Short Range Outlook (SRO) for steel demand for 2024 and 2025. The association’s SRO forecast outlined “that this year demand will see a 1.7% rebound to reach 1,793 Mt [million tons]. Steel demand is forecast to grow by 1.2% in 2025 to reach 1,818 Mt.”

Dr. Martin Theuringer, Chairman of the worldsteel Economics Committee, said, of the SRO “after two years of negative growth and severe market volatility since the COVID crisis in 2020, we see early signs of global steel demand settling in a growth trajectory in 2024 and 2025.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of the SRO is the association’s expectations for China. Historically, China has been the driver of the steel trade both as importer of steel producing commodities and an exporter of steel products. But the association wrote in this SRO that “We expect that steel demand in China in 2024 will remain around the level of 2023, as real estate investments continue to decline, but the corresponding steel demand loss will be offset by growth in steel demand coming from infrastructure investments and manufacturing sectors. In 2025 we see China steel demand returning to downtrend with a 1% decline.” The report added, this projection suggests that by 2025 China’s steel demand will be significantly lower than the recent peak demand year, 2020. This projection is also in line with our view that China might have reached its peak steel demand, and the country’s steel demand is likely to continue to decline in the medium-term…”

Besides a spike in steel related movements there has been a corresponding increase in breakbulk vessel demand. Toepfer Transport’s Multipurpose Shipping Report springtime edition wrote of the Time Charter Market, “As expected, the TMI (Toepfer’s Multipurpose Index) reached a plateau in January/February and is now again heading upwards. This is partially the result of the trade disruptions in the Red Sea, respectively the Suez Canal but also related to a slow and steady increase of demand and utilization…”

While the demand is significantly lower than the COVID spike of 2021-2023 that saw the TMI breach $23,500 mark, it is a welcomed rebound to back over $12,000 for April.

Toepher isn’t alone in their view of the market. Drewry’s in their April Multipurpose Shipping Forecaster, concurred, noting the “demand for project carriers has been strong due to the number and scale of industrial and energy projects, especially in the oil & gas and wind energy sectors. Hence, a drop in passings and an increase in voyage length by going South around America and Africa have added to tonne mile demand. This additional demand and utilization have manifested in higher time charter rates, although increases have been slight so far.

At the same time, stronger vessel demand starting next year is expected due to more project work, leading to a tight MPV charter market in 2026/27, especially on the project carrier front.”