The shipping industry has long provided investors with opportunities for asset play, reflecting the volatility in prices and relative shifts in the value of certain classes or ages of ships. Recent months have been no exception, with changes in tempo clearly evident in some shipping sectors. What can conducting a quick survey of the classic asset market indicators tell us today?

Classical Repertoire

One classic indicator (see SIW 1175) of the state of the asset market in any particular sector is the ratio of the 5 year old price to the newbuild price of a similar ship. On the basis of a 25 year lifespan, a 5 year old vessel depreciating evenly would be worth around 80% of the newbuild price. The level of this ratio can demonstrate how keen investors are to purchase assets on the water today.

Change Of Tempo

The graph shows the 5 year old to newbuild price ratio for a Capesize and a VLCC. The ratio is clearly volatile, and recent trends in the Capesize sector are illustrative of how conditions in shipping asset markets can change rapidly. Since the start of 2009, the Capesize ratio has fluctuated within a wide range from 50% (reached in early 2009 and again in early 2016) to 110% (although this was still well below the peak of 160% in mid-2008 at the height of the boom). The ratio has also moved significantly even in the last few weeks, as Capesize secondhand prices have risen robustly. At the end of February 2017, the 5 year old Capesize price stood at $25m, 60% of the newbuild price. By the end of March, the 5 year old price had risen to $33.5m, 80% of the newbuild price and the highest ratio since autumn 2014, indicating the improved appetite for tonnage in the bulker market.

New World Or Old Classics?

While these trends in asset price ratios can indicate the market’s view on the relative value of newbuild and secondhand tonnage, changes in the ratio can sometimes subsequently impact on decision making by investors. When the ratio falls to low levels (the Capesize ratio remained below 70% from Jan-15 to Feb-17), secondhand purchases can often appear more attractive than newbuildings, whilst higher ratios can sometimes eventually stimulate newbuild interest.

Orchestrating Opportunities

Even more starkly, the volatility in price ratios reinforces the opportunities for asset play in the shipping markets. To take an example, a 5 year old Capesize vessel one year ago could have been picked up for about $23.75m. Trading the vessel on a 1-year timecharter (around $8,000/day at the time) and selling the unit as a 6 year old, for say $31.5m, would have generated a return of almost $8m after OPEX (34% of the original outlay).

Still Making Overtures?

So, even after a prolonged downturn, the classic indicators show a shipping market still volatile and open for asset play. Recent shifts, especially in the bulker sector, offer an excellent example. Whilst the outcome is always highly difficult to predict, there still appear to be opportunities for those willing to take a chance, hoping to hit the right note. Have a nice day!

SIW1267:Graph of the Week

The fundamental lying beneath the shipping industry is cargo and its journey, and in many cases the cargoes are the world’s key commodities. In 2014, prices across a range of commodities took a sharp dive, but over the last year or so they’ve started to improve again. So, what do the trends in the prices of the commodities underlying the shipping markets tell us about the shape of things today?

Oiling The Wheels?

Most followers of commodities will be aware of the oil price downturn, with the price of Brent crude falling from an average of $112/bbl in June 2014 to reach a low of $32/bbl in February 2016. However, it has since improved, to an average of $52/bbl in March 2017, with the key driver the implementation of oil output cuts by major producers. Despite this recent price rise, in this case the underlying commodity price trend does not appear to be supportive for shipping, with seaborne crude oil trade growth subsequently slowing, having risen by an average of 3.9% p.a. in 2015-16, and tanker markets easing back. On the other hand, rising oil prices might start to help support an improved offshore project sanctioning environment, though the stimulation of increased shale production in the US poses a risk to its seaborne imports.

Bulk Bounce

On the dry bulk side, the iron ore price fell from $155/t in February 2013 to reach a low of $40/t in December 2015 but has since recovered robustly to an average of $87/t in March 2017. Meanwhile, the coal price fell from $123/t in September 2011 to a low of $50/t in January 2016 but has since improved firmly to an average of $81/t in March 2017. In China government policies and domestic output cuts drove shipments of ore (up 7%) and coal (up 20%) in 2016, helping to support international prices. Demand growth has continued in the same vein in 2017, with ore and coal imports up 13% and 48% y-o-y respectively in the first two months. Average Capesize spot earnings recently hit $20,000/day, and some industry players have appeared cautiously optimistic about the possibility of better markets.

Spending Power?

What does all this mean for the third main volume sector, container shipping? Well, in this case, the previous downward pressure on commodity prices had been felt in the form of pressure on imports into commodity exporting developing economies faced with reduced income and spending power. This had a clear negative impact on volumes into Latin America, Africa and eventually even the Middle East; overall north-south volume growth fell below 1% in 2016. Although it’s early days yet, the recovery in commodity prices should suggest a gradual improvement even if the benefits lag commodity pricing, and the positive impact might not be evenly paced across the regions.

From The Bottom Up

So, it appears that commodity prices have now departed the bottom of the cycle. Alongside the impression of a generally firmer background, inspection of the underlying drivers suggests a mixture of messages for shipping, less beneficial in some instances, but in many ways more positive for volumes. As ever, it’s interesting to take a look at what lies beneath…

SIW1267:Graph of the Week

The introduction of new environmental regulations is leading the shipping industry to look for ways of reducing its emissions of harmful gases. This week we focus on two separate but related issues: the way in which vessels are powered, and the type of fuel that they use. New technologies are being adopted, with certain ship types leading the way…

Electric Therapy

The majority (96%) of active merchant vessels are powered by mechanical systems in which a form of fuel oil powers a main engine (usually a 2 or 4-stroke diesel) which is connected to the propeller. Most other vessels are “diesel-electric”, in which the power generated by the (4-stroke) main engine(s) is converted to electricity before being transferred to propeller(s) or thruster(s) via electric motors.

By optimising the loading of the engines, diesel-electric systems can lower fuel consumption and emissions. These systems are well established in sectors such as offshore, tugs and passenger, where manoeuvrability, variation in power demand and engine noise are important considerations. For larger cargo vessels, where demand for power is generally higher and more consistent, conventional mechanical systems remain more efficient and cost-effective. Our Graph of the Week shows that against a backdrop of reduced contracting in the larger cargo sectors, electrically-driven ships have assumed a greater share of the newbuilding market, accounting for 22% of reported newbuilding contracts so far this year.

Battery Charged

The next step for electric power may be more widespread adoption of batteries in main propulsion systems. There are 22 vessels in service and 14 on order that use batteries, mostly alongside either conventional diesel or dual-fuel generating sets. As well as reducing emissions when using battery power, these can enhance efficiency by optimising engine loads and transferring surplus power to or from the batteries as required. For smaller ferries intended for short routes, all-electric propulsion systems are feasible.

Gas Treatment

LNG has been identified as a cleaner fuel capable of reducing vessel emissions in line with new regulations. Clarksons Research’s World Fleet Register currently identifies 542 merchant ships in the fleet and on order capable of using LNG fuel. 351 of these are LNG carriers, which can use cargo boil-off to fuel a choice of turbine, dual-fuel diesel electric or dual-fuel 2-stroke main engines. In other sectors LNG fuel has taken longer to gain market share, but there are signs that where ship designs and the supply of bunkers allow, it is becoming more popular. Out of the 130 contracts recorded so far in 2017, 21 are for vessels capable of using LNG fuel. These include 4 Aframax tankers, the largest vessels other than LNG carriers to adopt dual-fuel 2-stroke engines.

More efficient power systems and cleaner fuels are two examples of how the shipping industry is responding to the challenges set by new environmental regulations. Alongside other developments in vessel design and operating practices, shipping is steering towards a more efficient and cleaner future. Have a nice day!

SIW1266:Graph of the Week

Natural gas is set to account for an increasing share of the global energy mix in coming years, with gas consumption growing by an average of around 1.5%-2% a year out to 2040, according to energy forecasting agencies such as the IEA. And based on recent trends, if the consensus views on natural gas prove accurate, the implications for the offshore and LNG carrier fleets are likely to be significant.

Stepping On The Pedal

In 2016, global natural gas demand stood at an estimated 347bn cfd, up by 24% on the 280bn cfd consumed in 2006. Demand for natural gas in recent years has been driven by industrialisation in developing economies (Chinese gas demand, for example, grew at a CAGR of 13% in 2006-16) and environmental concerns the world over. Historically, the majority of trade in natural gas has been by pipeline, for instance from Eurasia to Europe. In 2015, pipelines still accounted for 68% of natural gas volumes moved globally.

However, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has become an increasingly important form in which gas is traded, even given the costs of complex liquefaction and regasification facilities. Over 50% of existing nameplate liquefaction capacity at LNG export terminals (349mtpa globally) has come online since 2005. As a corollary, from start 2006 to start March 2017, the LNG carrier fleet increased from 193 to 479 vessels and tripled in total capacity to 70.2m cubic metres of LNG.

Shifting It Up A Gear

Growth in the seaborne LNG trade is in turn closely linked with growth in offshore gas production, as major LNG exporters such as Qatar and more recently Australia use offshore gas fields to provide feedstock to LNG trains. Qatar accounted for 30% of LNG exports and 22% of existing liquefaction capacity in 2016, all fed via offshore gas, mostly from the giant North Field. In 2006, offshore fields accounted for 28% of global gas production and by 2016, 31%. This is set to rise to 32% (119bn cfd) in 2017, mainly due to field start-ups off Australia that are to feed LNG projects like Wheatstone. Finding, developing and supporting offshore gas fields on Australia’s NW Shelf has created demand for a range of vessels from the offshore fleet of over 13,500 units.

More Gas In The Tank

The exploitation of these remote reserves has also spawned the FLNG concept – vessels that can be used to exploit otherwise stranded gas. The LNG markets are clearly challenged at present but in the long term, planned FLNG projects in Australia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mauritania and other areas could potentially sustain offshore gas production growth. Another major source of gas production growth has been the US shale gas sector, where production rose from 4bn cfd in 2007 to 48bn cfd in 2016. The US accounts for over 50% of liquefaction capacity under construction (while some planned projects entail liquefaction of shale gas on near-shore FLNGs) and is set to become a major LNG exporter in coming years.

So offshore gas production has grown as a share of total global gas production, as has US shale gas. Both trends can create opportunities for LNG and offshore vessels. And if, in line with consensus expectations, gas continues to grow as a share of the energy mix, then these trends may have a long and interesting road ahead.

SIW1265:Global Natural Gas Production And LNG Export Capacity

In the last few decades, the shipping industry has generally been able to rely on seaborne trade as a fairly steady performer. However, the slowdown in volume growth since the financial crisis has focussed the industry’s thoughts on potential barriers to healthy long-term trade growth, so all eyes are on signs of a potential return to faster expansion in volumes…

Steady As She Goes

From 1988 to 2008 growth in world seaborne trade averaged an estimated 4.2% pa, a fairly robust level underpinning long-term demand for ships. Sure, the markets at times felt the impact of oversupply, but sustained weakness of demand growth wasn’t generally the problem. However, since 2009 the growth rate has slowed, averaging 3.2%, and just 2.8% since 2013. This still equates to significant additional volumes (1.8% growth in 2015 added 194m tonnes) but it’s still enough to get market players worrying.

Could Be Worse?

But should it? Maybe it depends on how you put the trend into context. Cycles can be long; Martin Stopford has famously identified 12 dry cargo cycles of more than 10 years back to the 1740s! The current cycle certainly feels like it has dragged on; it’s now more than eight years since the onset of the financial crisis. However, there are interesting historical comparisons. Between 1929 (the year of the Wall Street Crash) and 1932, the value of global trade dropped by 62% and didn’t get back to the same level until the post-war years. Now that really would have been a time to worry!

Getting Serious?

Today perhaps some of the anxiety is amplified by the seemingly wide range of factors that look threatening to seaborne trade’s supportive historical record. Protectionist tendencies, whether they be from the Trump presidency or the UK’s Brexit vote, slowing growth in China, ‘peak trade’, robotics and 3D printing: no-one really knows how things will pan out but everyone’s watching closely for anything to allay at least some of the fears.

Basket Case

So that brings us back to our old friend the ‘monthly trade basket’ (see graph and description). Six months ago we reported that this appeared to be showing a pick-up and this time round things are still looking positive. The 3-month moving average shows a generally upward trend since autumn 2015 with an average of 4% in the second half of 2016, hinting that the bottom of the demand cycle may finally have been passed. The current projection for overall seaborne trade in 2017 is still less than 3% with plenty of scenarios possible, but both market sentiment and the momentum right now feel a little more positive than that.

Feeling Any Better Yet?

So, while it’s quite right to try to assess the range of factors which appear to be lining up against a return to more robust levels of trade growth, it’s also far from incorrect to look for signs of a turn in the trend. Cycles in shipping can be long and sometimes it can take a while to identify them. That may not be helpful to hear but you can have a nice day trying…

SIW1264

After a long cycle of build-up in capacity in the 2000s, shipyards hit a new peak in global output in 2010. Since then, the impact of reduced vessel ordering on shipbuilders worldwide has been a key issue for the industry, and it’s clear that global output has dropped significantly and shipyard capacity has diminished. But how far can those shipyards still active look ahead today?

Looking Forward

‘Forward cover’ is one basic indicator of the volume of work that shipyards have on order, calculated by dividing the total orderbook by the last year’s output (in CGT). Unsurprisingly, after a period of extremely low ordering in 2016, forward cover has shortened. Currently, global forward cover stands at 2.3 years having declined throughout 2016, as the orderbook shrank by 25% in CGT terms. Global forward cover was as low as 2.1 years at the start of 2013 (but delivery volumes in 2012 were 37% higher than in 2016) and peaked at 5.6 years in 2008.

Looking around the shipbuilding world, yards in Korea currently have the lowest level of cover at 1.5 years. European yards, meanwhile, bucked the trend in 2016, increasing their forward cover on the back of cruise ship orders (and falling production volumes) to 4.2 years.

Less To Go Round

Fewer fresh orders have also led to a greater number of yards ending the year without receiving a single contract. During 2005-08, the number of yards to take at least one order was on average equivalent to 87% of the number of yards active (with at least one unit on order) at the start of the year. In 2009-15, with ordering generally lower, the figure averaged 49%. In 2016 this fell further to 28%, with just 133 yards receiving an order. In China, 48 yards (26 of which were state-backed) won an order in 2016 compared to 284 yards in 2007. In Japan, 22 yards took an order in 2016 compared to 60 as recently as 2015. In Korea, 11 shipyards took an order last year.

Out Of Work?

Whilst many yards have tried to cope with the lower demand environment by slowing production or working outside their traditional product range, the statistics clearly point to huge challenges. In 2016, 117 yards delivered the final unit on their orderbook. The peak production level of these yards, many of them smaller builders, totals around 4m CGT. However, 163 yards are scheduled to deliver their current orderbook by the end of 2017 (although in reality slippage may mean some of the work runs on past the end of the year). Statistically, this represents 43% of the number of yards active at the start of the year. Although these yards have been reining back capacity and outputting less in recent years, the peak production level of this set of yards totals as much as 12m CGT. Offshore builders of course face huge pressures too, with about half of those active scheduled to deliver their final unit on order this year.

Global shipyard output and capacity have fallen significantly since the peak years. However, many remaining yards still don’t need to look too far ahead to see the end of their current workload. The shipbuilding industry will be hoping to see a return to a more active newbuilding market sooner rather than later.

SIW1263

We’re well into the Year of the Rooster in China now, but trade figures for last year are still coming in and it’s interesting to see what a major impact China still had in 2016. Economic growth rates may have slowed, and the focus of global economic development may have diversified to an extent, but China was very much still at the heart of the world’s seaborne trade.

Not A Lucky Year

In 2015 the Chinese economy saw both a slowdown in growth and a significant degree of turbulence. GDP growth slowed from 7.3% in 2014 to 6.9%. Steel consumption in China was easing and growth in Chinese iron ore imports slowed from 15% to 3%. Coal imports slumped by an even more dramatic 30%. Container trade was affected badly too. China is the dominant force on many of the world’s most important container trade lanes and is involved in over half of the key intra-Asia trade. Uncertainty in the Chinese economy in 2015 took a heavy toll on this and intra-Asian trade growth slumped to 3% from 6% in 2014. Going into 2016, there was plenty of apprehension about Chinese trade, and its impact on seaborne volumes overall.

Back In Action

However, things turned out to be a lot more positive in 2016 than most observers expected. China once again underpinned growth in bulk trade, with iron ore imports surprising on the upside, registering 7% growth on the back of producer price dynamics, and coal imports bouncing back by 20%. Crude oil imports into China also registered rapid growth of 16%, supported by greater demand for crude from China’s ‘teapot’ refiners.

In containers, growth in intra-Asian trade returned to a robust 6%, and the Chinese mainlane export trades fared better too, with Far East-Europe volumes back into positive growth territory and the Transpacific trade seeming to roar ahead. Overall, total Chinese seaborne imports  grew 7% in 2016, up from 1% in 2015, with Chinese imports accounting for around 20% of the global import total. Growth in Chinese exports remained steady at 2%.

Thank Goodness

Despite all this, seaborne trade expanded globally by just 2.7% in 2016. Thank goodness Chinese trade beat expectations. Of the 296mt added to world seaborne trade, 142mt was added by Chinese imports, equal to nearly 50% of the growth. Unfortunately, this was counterbalanced by trends elsewhere, with Europe remaining in the doldrums and developing economies under pressure from diminished commodity prices.

Rooster Booster?

So, 2015 illustrated that a maturing economy and economic turbulence could derail Chinese trade growth. But China is a big place, and 2016 shows it still has the ability to drive seaborne trade and that the world hasn’t yet found an alternative to ‘Factory Asia’. 2017 might see a focus on other parts of the world too, with hopes for the US economy, India to drive volumes, and developing economies to potentially benefit from improved commodity prices. But amidst all that, China will no doubt still have a big say in the fortunes of world seaborne trade. Have a nice day.

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