FREIGHT FUTURES

FREIGHT FUTURES

SHIPBROKERS ARE NOW SUGGESTING that the shipping market has bottomed out, at least for thetime being, and this was reflected in the performance of the freight futures market, which firmed up in the second half of the week.

The spot barometer, the Baltic Freight Index, continued to drop, moving down 38 points during the week. The April contract, which, at one point, had

closed 55 points below spot, gained sufficient momentum to move up and finish the week only three points below spot. This sentiment indicator is widely watched by many market observers.The rally, such as it was, was driven by a combination of "technicals" (i.e. points on charts, trend lines, overbought-oversold indicators) and sentiment. The technical indicators work according to the same rules that govern the scores of other futures contracts, and thousands of equities, that trade on exchanges all over the world.

But the sentiment governing the shipping industry, and leading to moves up and down in prices of futures contracts traded on the Biffex, in London, operates in strange and secretive ways. Cabals of shipping brokers and principals' representatives, in a handful of shipping centers around the world, make up the basis of opinion. In the case of the move down in prices we have seemingly completed, and the path of the inchoate upturn, the cabal has been defeated stunningly by the charts.

Increasingly, however, with price information and charts widely available, the shipping market is "accessible" to outsiders, including investors, through the futures market.

This is one important reason why the London market is not wholeheartedly welcomed by individuals who have been employed in the business in brokerage and operational capacities.

Last week, one leading Biffex trader, who is also a mover of large quantities of South American grain, as well as being a purveyor of some excellent industry software, was disseminating a chart that showed both the spot indicator, and a 400-day moving average of this spot indicator, on the same graph.

A "downside crossover" (where the BFI crosses below the 400-day average) would be very bearish for the shipping market. With this trader having an interest in using a deflated futures pricing structure to lock in very favorable levels on his physical shipping program, it is clear why he would want to get this point of view across.