* Australia-China rates hit highest level in five months
* Brazil-China rates climb to highest in over three months
* Tonnage supply tightens after fixture activity-ship broker
By Keith Wallis
SINGAPORE, May 14 (Reuters) - Rates for capesize bulk carriers, which climbed to their highest since at least January on Wednesday, are likely to remain steady next week on tighter tonnage supply, ship brokers said.
That comes as charterers could hold back cargoes to cool this week's rise in freight rates, a Singapore-based capesize broker said on Thursday.
"The capesize market is quite tight for June-loading dates. We could see rates climb or hold steady next week."
"Capesize rates from Brazil and South Africa and for transatlantic voyages are still pushing up. There's been quite a lot of activity this week," the broker said.
There have been more than 40 capesize fixtures since May 7, according to Reuters chartering data with multiple charters arranged by miners, including Vale and BHP Billiton , and operators such as Germany's Oldendorff Carriers.
Rates from Australia to China had flattened out after this week's rally, he said.
"Average daily earnings (are) up more than 50 percent week-on-week coming in at an average of $7,000," Norwegian ship broker Fearnley said in a weekly note on Wednesday.
Despite the rise rates are barely enough to cover daily operating costs, Fearnley and the Singapore capesize broker said.
The increase in rates was driven by a combination of delays over bad weather, a larger number of idled ships that had reduced tonnage capacity, and increased iron ore sales, the Fearnley note said.
Charter rates for the Western Australia-China route were around $5.55 per tonne on Wednesday, against $4.73 a week earlier, and the highest since Dec. 10, 2014. They have hovered close to $4.12 reached on Jan. 12, the lowest since December 2008.
Rates for the Brazil-China route climbed to $12.28 per tonne on Wednesday, compared with $10.32 last week, the highest since Jan. 22. They dropped to $9.65 on Jan. 9, the lowest since January 2009.
Freight rates in the smaller panamax market could climb further next week amid buoyant cargo volumes from Australia and to the east coast of India, a Singapore-based panamax broker said.
Rates for a panamax transpacific voyage rebounded this week to $4,257 per day, the highest since April 29.
Freight rates for smaller supramax vessels are likely to slide next week on reduced chartering activity, shipbrokers said.
The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index closed up at 634 on Wednesday against 575 last week. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)