Canada Markets

Thunder Bay Opening the Earliest Since 2008

Cliff Jamieson
By  Cliff Jamieson , Canadian Grains Analyst
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The Thunder Bay shipping season began March 24 with the arrival of a grain vessel. Grain stocks in store Thunder Bay terminals as of week 33, or March 19, are reported at 557,300 metric tons, a three-year low, with wheat stocks as of week 33 showing the largest decline over the past two years. (DTN graphic by Nick Scalise)

The website for the Port of Thunder Bay reports that the 2017 shipping season begins today, or March 24, with the arrival of a vessel destined to move grain to Buffalo New York. This date marks the earliest port opening since 2008, while the vessel and Captain will be the honored guests at today's annual Opening of Navigation "Top Hat" Ceremony.

Celebrations may not last long, with the CBC recently reporting that Thunder Bay suffered its worst season in years in 2016 while slowdown in global shipping has shippers remaining cautious. "I don't see anything that's going to be a game changer very quickly," a major shipper told CBC.

While movement of grains was reported to increase last year, overall volumes of all commodities fell 3.4% to 35 million metric tons, with the largest reductions seen in iron ore, coal and dry bulk product. Overall movement in 2017 is expected to increase but will remain below what is referred to as average movement of 40 mmt. As indicated in the report "Everyone is so desperate to see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, (but) there's a lot of very, very big uncertainties underpinning the market at the moment," said William Bennett, a senior shipping analyst.

The attached chart shows the stocks of grain in Thunder Bay as of week 33, or March 19, at 557,300 metric tons, the lowest volume in three years and roughly 15,000 mt higher than the five-year average. Stocks of grain totaled 761,700 mt in 2014/15. It does not appear that grain shippers are poised at this time for significant volumes shipped early, although the early start may have taken shippers off guard.

Wheat stocks have suffered the largest decline for week 33, with current stocks reported at 261,300 mt, down from the recent high of 443,300 mt reported in 2014/15. Durum stocks at 105,800 mt are at a three-year low, while canola stocks at 154,000 mt are at a two-year low. The combination of all other grains combined, at 36,200 mt, are also at a three-year low.

The Ag Transport Coalition's Weekly Performance Update to week 33 shows that both railroads have performed well in the Thunder Bay corridor. CN has supplied 95% of cars ordered, which is equivalent to the percentage supplied for Vancouver movement. Crop-year to-date, CP has supplied 94% of cars ordered for the first 33 weeks, only slightly weaker than their performance into Vancouver terminals.

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