Shipping market: a review of 2021 and our forecast for 2022

Published on: 15 February 2022
Category: About shipping

Early last year, we had a look at the data from the 2020 shipping market and expressed cautious optimism: although the transition back to pre-pandemic levels of sea trading would be long and difficult, the numbers from the last quarter showed an upwards trend that hinted at 2021 being better than the previous year.

Now that 2021 has come and gone, we can look back at that prediction and say that it was overall correct: the shipping market experienced a significant bounce back from the 2020 crisis.

While the pandemic continued to affect sea traffic and harbor procedures, the movement of dry bulk goods and containers boasted an overall growth in the first half of 2021, with tankers being the only market experiencing the opposite trend as COVID-19 put a damper on the demand of crude oil and oil products; for comparison, the Baltic Dry Index on 29 June 2021 reached the same level it had in July 2010, a promising sign of a possible return to normal.

The virus played a major role in determining traffic volume and freight rates, particularly with the outbreak in the Yantian port causing container global shipping miles to decrease by 0.3 billion, but it was far from the only force at play.

From political tensions between China and Australia significantly reshaping long-distance trade routes and forcing China, the world’s largest importer of coal, to look for sources elsewhere, to the temporary disruption at the end of March caused by the stranding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal, 2021 was a year of promising highs and unpredictable lows, though certainly better than the one that came before.

Now that a new year is starting, it is time to make our cautious predictions on the trends of 2022—a risky business at best, as the surfacing of new COVID variants and the response of individual governments to any further surge of cases may yet disrupt the market entirely.

It is the opinion of Moody’s that the peak has been reached in 2021 and the shipping market will tend to remain stable in 2022 rather than increasing further, though the major rating agency’s statement further clarifies that it is expected to stabilize at a high level comparable to 2021 and not drop back to the record lows of 2020 for the foreseeable future.

It is too soon to say that the maritime shipping sector is fully back to normal, but we can take a measure of comfort from these predictions going forward and keep striving to offer our clients the best possible experience even in a historical moment as fraught as a prolonged pandemic.

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