The Little-Known Shipping Metric

Time magazine recently had a piece on “the least known key economic indicator” — the Baltic Dry Index.

The BDI, which is a measure of worldwide shipping rates, has “registered some eye-popping gains over the past month,” Time’s Jeff Israely writes. “The London-based index registered its 23rd straight daily gain on Wednesday, closing at 4,291, its highest mark since September and the longest streak of gains since July 2006.” Daily rates for large “Capesize” ships that typically carry iron ore were at $93,197 last week, Israely notes; five months ago, they were a small fraction of that, sitting just above $2,000.

The intimation is that the global economy is getting back on the right track. “We can say that the complete lockup of world trade we saw at the end of last year has eased considerably,” Baltic Index President Jeremy Penn told Time.

Still, you should always be careful of any sort of “silver bullet” metric, and Penn himself notes that the Baltic Index has its limitations. “Indeed,” writes Israely, “the current boost is best explained by Chinese steel production demand and a shortage of the Capesize vessels to haul the iron ore. Penn notes that it is not yet clear whether the core manufacturing that is turning again in China is linked to coming export demand or domestic infrastructure investment.”

Whether or not the Baltic Dry Index ends up being a sign of a global recovery or something else remains to be seen. But what’s not up for debate is that shipping prices have, in general, jumped by a pretty huge amount in recent months. That got me wondering which firms might benefit from a run-up in shipping fees, and might stand to benefit if the economy does indeed continue to show signs of life.

I found a handful of shipping firms that fare well on my Guru Strategy computer models on

Shipping Stocks

You should be aware that shipping prices, and thus shipping company earnings, can be volatile, and several of the firms that draw interest from my models have had erratic earnings over the past five years. Among the more stable earners: Kirby Corporation (KEX), which gets approval from my Peter Lynch-based model, and SEACOR Holdings (CKH), which gets some interest from my Lynch- and Benjamin Graham-based models.

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