Competitive Shipbrokers

Competitive Shipbrokers work as independent shipbrokers, trying to match many different cargoes with vessels from many different tramp owners’ fleets. The majority of shipbrokers work in this independent way, because they feel that it does not restrict them to only one or a very few principals. They used to be known as cabling shipbrokers, which harks back to the days when shipbrokers in London, New York and the US West Coast would pass trade on to each other by cable at the close of each centre’s business working day. Their function was to compare the freight markets of the two countries on a daily/overnight basis. Thus they reported on the cargoes and vessels available, as well as on the fixtures reported done that day. Their work is highly competitive and nowadays often involves working from home long after close of normal business hours. A modern broker is no longer restricted by the day’s final cable. Several of the larger broking houses in the main chartering centres in the world (London, New York, Hong Kong) in fact perform all three functions, having departments within each office, which deal with owners or charterers on an exclusive or semi-exclusive basis and also deal with the wider market on a purely competitive basis. Other large broking houses have departments which specialise in particular fields, such as certain geographical areas, or certain types of vessel, or servicing certain industries (such as the oil offshore industry) or only handling trade which pertains to one particular commodity. They feel that their specialisation sets them apart from the broker who is more bound to one principal and that they do not have to fight as hard as the competitive broker to attract custom. However, in the climate of trade nowadays, very few shipbrokers feel that they can rely on any one principal or commodity or vessel type to make a living; thus many shipbrokers spread their net and may have a few semi-exclusive accounts, as well as some specialisations and as much competitive work as they can muster. Shipbrokers are wholly dependent on the volume of trade in their market – which of course is true of shipbrokers in any field. Shipping, as principally a service industry, is of course totally subject to the cyclical, political and seasonal vagaries of the markets it serves. Baltic Exchange shipbrokers in London are no longer literally ‘Walking the Floor’.