The Atlantic Panamax market remained firmed this week, underpinned by stable East Coast South America grains demand from the Far East and Southeast Asia regions.

Inquiry for grain helped to sustain a lively fixing pace, sources said.

Freight rates also increased on the back of thinner tonnage out of Brazilian ports and increased interest in period fixing.

Reflective of the positive market, the Brazil to China grains run, basis 60,000 mt, was assessed at $33/mt, $1 up from the beginning of the month.

Rates may go higher by the first half of February. “ECSA is still the main driver,” a shipbroker said, adding: “The US Gulf Coast grains never really took off last year and now they are in a declining phase.”

Some industry sources were anticipating the arrival of ballasters from the Pacific Basin, but the majority of players maintained a positive outlook.

“It is normal to see 20-something ballasters going to the ECSA by this time of the year,” a shipbroker said, adding: “This will maintain the regular flow of grains front-hauls and rebalance the Pacific, which has been a bit softer…It is good for the market.”

Brazilian grains have made up the backbone of recent trades, with Atlantic minerals muted since the beginning of the year, with only sporadic fixtures reported.

“We need more minerals,” a shipbroker said. “The market cannot be supported exclusively by the South American grains. If they stop, we will have a [difficult] situation.”

Freight rates on coal runs started softening as a result of prolonged inactivity.

The Mobile, Alabama, to Rotterdam, Netherlands, coal run, basis 70,000 mt, was assessed at $14.75/mt, down 75 cents/mt since the beginning of the month.

Despite softer rates, industry sources said the market was not going to crash because there was support from a lack of tonnage.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News.