Baltic Dry Index Is The Most Alarming Chart Of The Week

by: Lou Basenese

It’s Friday in the Wall Street Daily Nation. If you’re a newbie, that means I’m skipping the long-winded analysis. Instead, I’ll let some carefully selected graphics do most of the talking for me. This week, I’m dishing on an alarming development for the obscure yet instructive Baltic Dry Index.

Houston, We Have a Problem

While almost everyone finally agrees that the United States has avoided a nasty double-dip recession, a slowdown’s still brewing elsewhere in the world. All I have to do to be sure is look at the latest chart for the Baltic Dry Index.

The Baltic Dry Index tracks the cost of shipping major raw materials (iron ore, coal, grain, cement, copper, sand and gravel, fertilizer and even plastic granules). Or, more simply, it tracks the precursors of economic output. As such, the Index provides a measurement of the volume of global trade at the earliest possible stage.

When I last reported on the Baltic Dry Index in October 2011, it was coming off an impressive two-month, 50% rally. That rally’s come to an end. As you can see in the chart above, the Index is down 48.4% in the last month, and 54.4% in the last three months.

The culprit is Europe, of course. You’ll recall that European sovereign debt fears spiked (again) last October. And that’s precisely when the Baltic Dry Index also began its descent. Coincidence? I think not. And the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (NYSE:IMF) have my back. On Wednesday, the World Bank cut its world economic growth forecast explicitly because of Europe’s never-ending debt crisis. Meanwhile, as Europe’s debt crisis persists, Bloomberg reports that the IMF plans to cut its global growth forecasts, too.

The obvious takeaway from today’s chart? Steer clear of companies that sell cyclical products exclusively in European markets. A recession there is afoot, if not already underway. And the less obvious takeaway? As I reported yesterday, avoid U.S. stocks with heavy European exposure.

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