* Capesize sector confused as it waits for direction - broker
* Iron ore stocks at China’s ports less than a year ago - broker
* Iron ore futures hit highest since Aug. 2014 on Monday
By Keith Wallis
SINGAPORE, April 28 (Reuters) - Freight rates for large capesize dry cargo ships on key Asian routes are likely to hold close to five-month highs next week, buoyed by stable cargo volumes and higher bunker prices, although the large number of idle ships could weigh on the market, ship brokers said.
“I think the market will stay at this level until the market sees clearer signs from other elements, including iron ore, coal demand and oil prices,” said a Shanghai-based capesize broker said.
Iron ore futures in China slipped on Thursday after hitting 502 yuan per tonne on Monday, its strongest since August 2014, while there was a severe shortage of coking coal and coke.
At present, stockpiles of iron ore at Chinese ports are around 100 million tonnes, down from the 115 million tonnes stored at ports a year ago, ship broker Banchero Costa said in a dry bulk cargo report on Thursday.
Iron ore and coal are the stable cargoes of capesize vessels which can each carry more than 170,000 tonnes of the two commodities.
Rates for the Brazil-China route rose to $9.02 per tonne on Wednesday from $8.95 per tonne last week, that was close to $9.28 per tonne on April 18, the highest since Dec. 9.
Owners were offering $9.50 per tonne on Thursday for a capesize iron ore cargo from Brazil to China, while charterers were countering with bids of between $8.50 and $8.90 per tonne, the Shanghai broker said.
Capesize charter rates for the Western Australia-China route climbed to $4.37 per tonne on Wednesday, against $4.16 a tonne on the same day last week. Rates climbed to $4.51 per tonne on April 22, the highest since Dec. 1.
Higher bunker prices FO380-SIN, which rose to $210 per tonne on Wednesday, the highest since Dec. 1, helped support freight rates, brokers said.
Shipowners with vessels on the spot market pay for their own fuel and add a bunker premium to freight rates if fuel prices move higher, brokers said.
The rise in spot charter rates had fuelled an increase in the number of short-period time charters as owners locked in the higher daily earnings which are now above operating costs, brokers said.
However, the number of idle capesize ships, which had fallen to around 40 from 70 earlier this year, would dampen sentiment, brokers said.
Charter rates for smaller panamax vessels continued to climb with rates for a north Pacific round-trip voyage rising to $5,156 per day on Wednesday, from $4,927 per day last Wednesday, the highest since Oct. 29.
Freight rates in the Far East for smaller supramax vessels were “still flattish despite reasonable volume” of cargo, the Fearnley note said.
The Baltic Exchange’s main sea freight index rose to 715 on Wednesday, up from 669 the same day last week. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)