SHIPPING: Freight Rates Foundering

On summer afternoons, Greek shipowners gather at coffeehouses near the port of Piraeus, where they read their fortunes in the grounds at the bottom of their cups. In recent years, the grounds have spelled out nothing but good news. Since the Six-Day War of June 1967 closed the Suez Canal, shipowners everywhere have been riding the crest of a seemingly endless wave of profits. Last winter freight rates rose so high that many owners of bulk carriers and tankers became millionaires almost overnight.

This summer the coffee grounds have been telling a different...

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