What is the 'Baltic Dry Index - BDI'?

The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) is a shipping and trade index created by the London-based Baltic Exchange that measures change in the cost of transporting various raw materials. The exchange directly contacts shipping brokers to assess price levels for a given route, a product to transport and time to delivery, or speed. The Baltic Dry Index is a composite of three sub-indices that measure different sizes of dry bulk carriers or merchant ships: Capesize, Panamax and Supramax.

BREAKING DOWN 'Baltic Dry Index - BDI'

The Baltic Exchange, which calculates the index by assessing multiple shipping rates across multiple routes for each of the BDI component ships, issues the BDI daily. Analyzing multiple geographic routes for each index gives depth to the index's composite measurement.

Component Ships

The BDI includes three component ships: Capesizes, Panamaxes and Supramaxes. Capesize ships are the largest ships in the BDI with 100,000 deadweight tonnage or greater. The average size of a Capesize ship is 156,000 DWT. This category can also include some very large ships with a capacity of 400,000 DWT. Capesize ships primarily transport coal and iron ore on long-haul routes and are occasionally used to transport grains. Panamax ships have a 60,000 to 80,000 DWT capacity and are used mostly to transport coal, grains and minor bulk products, such as sugar and cement. Panamax ships require specialized equipment for loading and unloading. The smallest ships included in the BDI are Supramaxes with a carrying capacity of 50,000 to 59,999 DWT. While they are close in size to Panamaxes, Supramaxes normally have specialized equipment for loading and unloading and can be used at ports where Panamaxes cannot.

The BDI as an Economic Indicator

A change in the Baltic Dry Index can give investors insight into global supply and demand trends, and many consider a rising or contracting index leading indicator of future economic growth. If the index is falling, it might be because the goods shipped are raw, pre-production material, which is typically an area with very low levels of speculation. Because the supply of large carriers tends to be small with long lead times and high production costs, the index can experience high levels of volatility if global demand increases or suddenly drops off. The Baltic Exchange also operates as a maker of markets in freight derivatives, including types of financial forward contracts known as forward freight agreements.

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