SINGAPORE Oct 23 (Reuters) - Rates for capesize bulk carriers on key Asian routes could hold steady or climb higher after prices jumped earlier this week on renewed chartering activity by operators including Vale and Fortescue Metals Group, brokers said.
The surge in charter volumes added about $2 per tonne to capesize rates from Australia to China and $3 per tonne for a voyage from Brazil to China, leading the Baltic capesize index to climb nearly 60 percent in a week.
But capesize freight rates are still below the levels seen last year when the dry bulk sector entered the traditionally strong fourth quarter.
"The capesize market is a bit more exciting this week. The rally caught people by surprise. And I wouldn't be surprised if it nudges up," said a Singapore-based capesize broker on Thursday.
"But rates are still below where fourth quarter prices should be," he added.
Rates for the Western Australia-China route rose to $9 per tonne on Wednesday, up from $7.25 per tonne a week earlier. But they were slightly higher at 9.45 per tonne a year ago.
Freight rates for the Brazil-China route climbed to $20.25 per tonne on Wednesday, an increase of more than $3 per tonne compared with $17.14 per tonne a week ago.
Rates for a Brazil-China voyage were around $23.90 per tonne a year ago.
The Baltic capesize index, which covers rates on major capesize routes to Asia and Europe, climbed to 2,186 points on Wednesday, against 1,376 a week ago.
This week's rally followed a raft of new charters by Vale, BHP Billiton and FMG which reduced the list of available tonnage and buoyed market sentiment.
"But the market is still quite positional with charterers having the right cargo and owners the right ship in the right location," the broker said.
"I don't think charterers will pay much above the index levels," the broker said.
A public holiday in Singapore dampened activity, although charters were still concluded, the broker said.
"It remains to see if the market will continue to push once Singapore is back at work for the balance of the week," Norwegian broker Fearnley said in a weekly note on Wednesday.
"Nonetheless this could be a start to a much wished for healthy quarter four," Fearnley said.
But the Singapore capesize broker was less confident of a significant recovery.
"Charterers are now fixing vessels for mid-November. I can't see the rebound being as strong as last year. The damage is already done," the broker said.
Rates in the smaller panamax market are set to gain more on buoyant cargo volumes and tighter tonnage.
"Rates are pretty hot. The market is still relatively bubbly and there's plenty of cargo," said a Singapore-based panamax ship broker.
"The market is not showing any sign of falling," the broker said.
"Pacific business is paying well in excess of $10,000 per day, with many owners holding back," Fearnley said in its note.
"The lack of early ships and the number of increased cargo orders is mainly the reason for the remarkable market upswing and expectations for a stronger sentiment for quarter four," Fearnley added.
Rates for a panamax transpacific voyage climbed to $9,675 per day on Wednesday, against $7,963 per day a week earlier.
Freight rates for smaller supramax bulk carriers were virtually unchanged with rates of about $10,000 per day for trips from Singapore to India, the same level as last week, Fearnley said.
The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index closed at 1,136 on Wednesday against 935 last week. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Joseph Radford)