Global Shipping Rates Run Dry

by Dana Lyons

A key index of global shipping prices is nearly 50% below its previous record low level.

We swore we wouldn’t devote any more Charts Of The Day to the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) after it broke its all-time low in November. Things are really getting out of hand now, though, so it deserves at least a mention. The previous record low in the BDI was 553, set back in 1986. Upon breaking that low in November, the BDI continued to crater. As of today, the Baltic Dry Index is listed at 303.00 – nearly a full 50% below its previous all-time low.

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So what is the Baltic Dry Index? The BDI is a composite of various global shipping rates tied to the movement of raw materials. Why is it important? It can serve as a barometer of the global trade environment, as well as a measure of inflation based on global trade. If that is the case, the trade environment would appear downright dismal.

Now, of course much of the input into the BDI comes from the price of raw materials. Considering the deflationary spiral in commodities, the drop in the BDI to all-time lows shouldn’t be a shock. However, the depths that the index is now plumbing is quite alarming and suggests trouble in the global trade picture.

It would also suggest perhaps that the deflationary pressure is not just a supply issue. Consider every prior drop in the Baltic Dry Index down to the 500-600 level. Each time, the index immediately jumped as if latent demand was just waiting for those lower prices. That development has not yet occurred this time around, even as prices are reaching 45% below the previous record low.

The Baltic Dry Index has become a trendy thing to mention in recent years when discussing global market and economic conditions. The truth is, nobody really ever knows for sure what the broader message is behind the index’s behavior. That said, this recent plunge is making it quite difficult to conceive that it means anything positive in terms of the global economy and deflationary pressures.

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