Baltic’s proud past at stake

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

17 March 2016


One of shipping’s oldest institutions the Baltic Exchange is apparently the target for takeover by a number of organisations. Of course the historic role of the Baltic as a place for matching ships and cargoes has long since disappeared even if that practice is still carried on by a number of its members. Today the target is the indices and data that the exchange controls and manages, not least the Baltic Dry Index. The indices alone are useful of course, but much more important to those looking to take over the venerable institution is the access the give to the freight derivatives markets where potential fortunes are to be made. The idea of hedging as a tool to take some of the volatility out of shipping is valid but it does perhaps also give owners a false sense of security and could have contributed to over enthusiastic ordering, particularly in the bulk sector where excess capacity has grown regularly as hedging became more widely used. The freight derivatives market is also an attraction to the speculators and their presence is something that shipping can quite probably do without. When the volume of derivatives traded is several times higher than the underlying physical contracts, then that is in reality nothing more than legalised gaming that creates vast amounts of uncollateralised debt and makes assessing the real state of the market impossible. Derivative speculation is what caused the global economic meltdown in 2008 and the world of shipping has never really recovered from that. If the possible takeover of the Baltic really does turn it into a gambling den the motto 'My word is my bond' will likely cease to have much meaning.