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US southbound barge demand falls off earlier than usual

  • : Agriculture, Battery materials, Biofuels, Chemicals, Coal, Coking coal, Fertilizers, Metals, Petrochemicals, Petroleum coke
  • 24/05/01

Southbound barge rates in the US have fallen on unseasonably low demand because of increased competition in the international grain market.

Rates for voyages down river have deteriorated to "unsustainable" levels, said American Commercial Barge Line. Southbound rates declined in April to an average tariff of 284pc across all rivers this April, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is below breakeven levels for many barge carriers. Rates typically do not fall below a 300pc tariff until May or June.

Southbound freight values for May are expected to hold steady or move lower, said sources this week. Southbound activity has increased recently because of the low rates, but not enough to push prices up.

The US has already sold 84pc of its forecast corn exports and 89pc of forecast soybean exports with only five months left until the end of the corn and soybean marketing year, according to the USDA. US corn and soybean prices have come down since the beginning of the year in order to stay competitive with other origins. The USDA lowered its forecast for US soybean exports by 545,000t in its April report as soybeans from Brazil and Argentina were more competitively priced.

US farmers are holding onto more of their harvest from last year because of low crop prices, curbing exports.

Prompt CBOT corn futures averaged $435/bushel in April, down 34pc from April 2023.

Weak southbound demand could last until fall when the US enters harvest season and exports ramp up southbound barge demand. Major agriculture-producing countries such as Argentina and Brazil are expected to export their grain harvest before the US. Brazil has finished planting corn on time.

unlike last year. The US may face less competition from Brazil in the fall as a result.

Carriers are tying up barges earlier than usual to avoid losses on southbound barge voyages. Carriers that have already parked their barges will take their time re-entering the market unless tariffs become profitable again.

The carriers who remain on the river will gain more southbound market share and possibly more northbound spot interest.


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