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Factbox: Baltimore bridge collapse to primarily impact flow of coal, cobalt

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Factbox: Baltimore bridge collapse to primarily impact flow of coal, cobalt

Highlights

At about 1:30 am ET March 26 the Singapore-flagged Dali struck the 1.6 mile-long bridge that straddles the Patapsco River and marks the outermost crossing of the Baltimore Harbor area, causing its collapse.

Vessel traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore was suspended until further notice, although trucks were still being processed within the marine terminals, the Maryland Port Administration said.

At 3 pm ET March 27, some 16 commercial vessels, including the Dali, were docked at jetties within the Baltimore port area, of which six were laden and 10 were in ballast, according to S&P Global Commodities at Sea.

According to data from PIERS, a trade flow analytics tool within S&P Global, Baltimore port held just 4% share of the total trade volumes on the East Coast compared with other major regional ports like New York, with a nearly 38% share.

Baltimore is a key hub for the warehousing of base metals such as aluminum, copper, and zinc in addition to ferroalloys, and handles the most road vehicles of any terminal in the US.

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The collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge, after being struck by a container ship early March 26, disrupted traffic through the Maryland port, a major hub for warehousing and transshipment of commodities on the US East Coast. The closure is expected to primarily impact US coal exports and US cobalt imports, as Baltimore was a central trading hub for both.

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Infrastructure

Trade flows

Coal

  • The bridge collapse has blocked access to the key US coal export terminals of CSX Curtis Bay and Consol Marine Terminal (CNX).
  • Baltimore was the top originating port for US thermal coal exports at 17.1 million mt in 2023, according to US Census Bureau data.
  • Baltimore exported 4.3 million mt of thermal coal from Jan. 1 through March 26, 2024, with 2.7 million mt of that heading to India, according to S&P Global Commodities at Sea data. Other key destinations included China, Canada, and the Netherlands.
  • Primary shippers of coal from Baltimore included Arch Resources, Consol, Javelin, XCoal and JERA, CAS data showed.
  • Baltimore's 2023 coal exports included 8.2 million metric tons of metallurgical coal and 17.1 million mt of thermal coal, according to S&P Global data.
  • Some impacted USEC coal tonnage could be diverted to the Hampton Roads, Virginia terminals, but a coal terminal operator there previously told S&P Global that they were already operating at full capacity.
  • Market participants expected the incident to disrupt Baltimore coal exports in the short term (10-15 days) but suggested there would be limited pricing impacts amid well-stocked markets.

Metals

  • The US imported 10.3 million kg of cobalt products in 2023 with 5.43 million kg, over half of total shipments, flowing into Baltimore, making it the largest source of US cobalt imports, according to US Commerce Department data.
  • Two cobalt traders said March 26 they had stopped offering spot cobalt in the US because of the disruption at Baltimore.
  • Traders said port inventories of cobalt in Baltimore were already very tight in the face of strong demand for alloy and mid grades, and ongoing container shipping delays because of the Suez Canal crisis.
  • Baltimore's ports were also the third-largest destination for US imports of unwrought primary aluminum in 2023, registering over 461,600 mt in shipments and accounting for 12% of total aluminum imports, according to Commerce data.
  • Shipments of tin, copper, zinc, and lead were also expected to see some impact, while a ferroalloys trader said his import shipments of high-carbon ferromanganese, medium-carbon ferromanganese and low-carbon ferrochrome from India would be affected by the disruption in Baltimore.

Scrap

  • Bulk ferrous scrap exports from terminals in the Baltimore area in 2023 were 517,016 mt, up 46% from 235,985 mt in 2022, according to S&P Global Commodities at Sea.
  • The 2023 total included a volume of 259,985 mt of ferrous scrap shipped by Smith Industries from the Sparrows Point terminal, located nearer to the sea than the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge.
  • The remaining 260,331 mt of the 2023 total were shipped by Sims Metals and its subsidiary Baltimore Scrap from terminals closer within the harbor than the bridge, and further shipments from there could be impeded for longer.
  • An East Coast scrap broker said ferrous scrap exporters could feasibly move cargoes from Baltimore to Philadelphia via truck or barge, but transshipment costs and higher port fees there could add an estimated $25/mt to the export price, which may not be as attractive to overseas buyers in Turkey, India or Latin America.

Petrochemicals

  • Although LDPE film bale volumes exported from Baltimore represent only a small portion of total US scrap plastic ethylene derivative exports, according to US International Trade Commission data, market sources said the port closure could add delays to the next closest ports, such as New York and Norfolk, Virginia.
  • Baltimore exported just 1,125 mt of scrap plastic exports in 2023, or less than 1% of the total of 153,575 mt exported by the US, according to ITC data.
  • The impact on polyethylene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride trade flows is not expected to be significant, as the vast majority of resin outflows leave from ports further down the East Coast or on the Gulf Coast.

Oil

  • The bridge collapse had little to no impact on US refined products flows or prices, as the Baltimore-area fuel terminals are primarily supplied by the Colonial Pipeline.
  • Bunker supplies could tighten on the Atlantic Coast as vessels look to refuel outside of Baltimore in ports such as New York/New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia.
  • The port of Baltimore imports asphalt and residual fuel oil for bunkering purposes, with 1.44 million barrels of dirty petroleum products imported in 2023, US Energy Information Administration data showed.

Shipping

  • The Port of Baltimore handled 650,897 twenty-foot equivalent units "of inbound traffic and 272,8590 TEUs of outbound shipments in the 12 months to Jan. 31, 2024," according to S&P Global analysts John Raines and Chris Rogers.
  • "Container freight accounted for 75% of volumes handled through the port in the past 12 months, with autos and roll-on, roll-off capacity representing another 18%, while bulk shipments of steel and forestry products accounted for much of the remainder," they said.
  • That container traffic will likely have to be shifted to other area ports, including ports in New York, New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia.

Prices

Coal

  • Platts March 27 assessed FOB Baltimore 6,900 kcal/kg NAR coal up 75 cents at $82.35/mt and FOB Hampton Roads 6,000 kcal/kg NAR at $87/mt, unchanged on the day.
  • Platts weekly CIF Turkey 5.5% sulfur petcoke price was assessed at $98/mt March 27, flat on the week, although some sources expected to see higher prices depending on how long it takes to regain access to the Baltimore port.
  • The Platts US High Vol A assessment was $225/mt FOB March 27, flat on the day but up $10 from March 25.

Metals

  • Prices of alloy grade cobalt in the US climbed March 26 on higher offer indications after the port of Baltimore was closed. The Platts assessment for 99.8% Co alloy grade cobalt cathode was $18-$19/lb March 27 from $18-$18.50/lb March 25.
  • The Platts spot US aluminum Transaction premium was assessed at a five-month high of 19.20 cents/lb plus London Metal Exchange cash on March 27, delivered Midwest.

Scrap

  • The bridge collapse was unlikely to have any direct impact on global scrap prices since US exporters still need to compete on price with EU exporters in the Turkish market. Platts assessed the export price of heavy melting scrap at $365/mt US East Coast March 26, down $1.25/mt from the previous day.

Oil

  • Platts assessed spot 0.5%S VLSFO bunkers in New York at $623/mt ex-wharf on March 27, up $16/mt on the day, with market sources saying the rise could have been due to increased bunker traffic because of the Baltimore port closure.

Shipping

  • Platts assessed container rate 5 -- North Asia to East Coast North America -- at $3,900/FEU March 27, down $200 on the day, as market sources were monitoring where vessels might be diverted.