In last year’s half year shipping report, we reported on an industry that “must do better”. With the ClarkSea Index averaging $10,040 per day in the first half (up 2% y-o-y but still 14% below trend since the financial crisis) there are still many subjects (sectors) struggling for good grades as our Graph of the Week shows. But are there some that are showing a bit more potential?

Don’t Rest On Your Laurels!

A year on from record lows, bulker earnings remain below trend (defined as the average since the financial crisis) but are showing signs of improvement. Capesize spot earnings moved from an average of $4,972/day in 1H 2016 to $13,086/day (75% below trend versus 33% below trend). Indeed, based on the first quarter alone, Panamax earnings moved above trend for the first time since 2014 and we have certainly seen lots of S&P activity. The containership sector has responded to the Hanjin bankruptcy with another wave of consolidation (the top ten liner companies now operate 75% of capacity) and some improvements, albeit with lots of volatility, in freight rates. Improved volumes, demolition and the re-alignment of liner networks, helped improve charter rates and indeed feeder containerships rates have moved above trend for the first time since 2011. Although some gains have been eroded moving into the summer, fundamentals for both these sectors suggest improvements in coming years but it may be a bumpy road!

Dropping Grades!

After solid marks in last year’s reviews, the tanker sectors tracked here have moved into negative territory compared to trend, with the larger ships feeling the biggest correction as fleet growth, particularly on the crude side, remains rapid and oil trade growth slows. Aside from a small pick-up in the LNG market in recent weeks, the gas markets remain weak, with VLGC earnings 42% below trend. Some increased activity, project sanctioning and investor interest has not yet taken offshore off the “naughty step” .

Still Top Of The Class?

The only sector significantly above trend for the first half is Ro-Ro, with rates for a 3,500lm vessel averaging euro 18,458/day, 42% above trend. There also continues to be strong interest in ferry and cruise newbuilding (the 2 million Chinese cruise passengers last year, now 9% of global volumes, is supporting a record orderbook of USD 44.2bn, as is the interest in smaller “expedition” ships). We must also give a mention to S&P volumes that are 60% above trend (51m dwt, up 50% y-o-y) and to S&P bulker values which improved 25% in the first quarter alone.

Showing Potential?

Upward revisions to trade estimates have been a feature of the first half, and we are now projecting full year growth of 3.4% (to 11.5bn tonnes and 57,000bn tonne-miles). Although demolition has slowed (down 55% y-o-y to 16m dwt), overall fleet growth of 2.3% is still below trend but an increase on 1H 2016 (1.6%). While there has been some pick-up in newbuild ordering to 24m dwt (up 27% y-o-y), this remains 52% below trend. Last year we speculated on an appointment with the headmaster – still possible but perhaps this year extra classes on regulation and technology? Have a nice day.

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“Going where the work is” has been a familiar mantra for many generations across the world, and the shipping industry is no different. Indeed, much of the world’s oil tanker and bulker fleet will be familiar with the sentiments of Simon and Garfunkel, wishing they were “homeward bound” but rarely getting “home where the music’s playing” as “every stop is neatly planned”!

Far And Wide…

Our analysis this week looks at the top shipowning nations and the trading patterns of their fleets, using data from our World Fleet Register and our vessel tracking system, Clarksons SeaNet. This analysis is based on the port calls and movements of the oil tanker and bulkcarrier fleet only (the “bulk fleet”); we will be taking a closer look at containership deployment in a future edition of Shipping Intelligence Weekly.

“Cross-Traders”…

Of the top ten owning nations, Greece, Norway, Italy and Denmark come out as the classic “cross-traders”. Ships owned by Europeans call at their “domestic” ports less than 15% of the time and rely heavily on trade routes involving Asia-Pacific countries. For nations like Greece (9% domestic port calls) this is a long-standing feature, achieving its number one shipowning status despite a global GDP ranking of 50 and a bulk seaborne trade rank of 47. The countries which Greek owned ships call at most often are China (14% by tonnage, 11% by number) and then the US (12%). Indeed for European owners generally, maintaining their share of global tonnage at an impressive 42% for the bulk fleet (45% for all ships) has come despite Atlantic trade stagnating at 3bn tonnes in the past fifteen years, while Pacific trade has more than doubled (to 8bn tonnes), a dramatic relative increase in trading outside Europe.

Sticking Close To Home…

At the other extreme, the Chinese and Japanese fleets come out with over 50% of calls at domestic ports, while the South Korean fleet sits at 38% (note the analysis includes some bunkering calls, notably at Singapore, but also elsewhere). Although China continues to be well serviced by international owners, its position as the world’s largest importer (25% of “bulk” cargo), second largest economy and number one seaborne trading nation means that 74% of Chinese fleet port calls are at domestic ports. In fact, 46% of total bulk Chinese port calls by tonnage (55% in numbers) are by domestic owned vessels, 24% by European owned ships and 24% by other Asian owned units. The growth of the Chinese bulk fleet (70% since the financial crisis) has begun to catch up with bulk trade growth (81%) but still lags significantly over a fifteen-year horizon (104% compared to 399% growth). Meanwhile, the US fleet comes in with 41% domestic port calls; this includes a large proportion of Great Lakes calls and Jones Act vessels.

500 Miles, 500 More…

So shipping is truly an industry that must go far and wide to find work. For European owners this is often a lot further than the “500 miles, 500 more” that Scottish brothers The Proclaimers sing, while for Asian owners their ships are more likely to be “Homeward Bound”. Have a nice day and safe travels home.

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Shipping is a cyclical industry and for shipyards the current trough in newbuilding orders has put further pressure on capacity. While the scale of the current surplus appears huge, this is not the first time that the shipbuilding industry has grappled with excess capacity. Looking back to the past, and specifically the shipbuilding cycle of the late 1970s, what can be learnt from previous experience?

Enjoying The Highs

The shipbuilding industry has a habit of ramping up production capacity rapidly. In 2010 shipyards broke all previous delivery records, outputting 53.2m CGT (in dwt and GT terms deliveries peaked in 2011). Compared to 2004, early into the most recent ordering boom, this was a 122% increase in deliveries. Looking back to the mid-1970s, there was a similar burst of activity as strong newbuild demand saw yard output double between 1972 and 1976 to 10.2m CGT.

What Goes Up…

As in the late 1970s, economic downturn and its impact on the shipping markets led to a significant fall in yard deliveries after their peak in 2010. The initial decrease in output was faster and sharper in the 1970s, with deliveries declining by 64% between 1976 (Year 0) and 1979 (Year 3). The current cycle has seen a more gradual fall in deliveries, declining 34% between 2010 and 2014 with 178 yards reported to have completed delivery of their orderbooks in 2012 (Year 2).

…Must Come Down

Shipyard output is still in decline. Though the surge in ordering in 2013 has helped support delivery volumes, current estimates are for an 18% fall in shipyard output in 2018. Many anticipate that the current delivery cycle will dip around 2019 (Year 9), suggesting a shorter cycle than before. It also seems unlikely that delivery levels will fall by as much as in the late 1980s, as the same pattern would imply a further 47% reduction in output from 2018 estimates to around 15m CGT.

Time To Recover?

After the 1970s crash, it took over a decade for shipbuilding output to recover. Today, following one of the weakest levels of newbuild contracting on record in 2016, the overcapacity which has characterised the global shipbuilding industry in recent years is even more prominent. While 353 shipbuilders currently have a vessel (1,000 GT or above) on order, almost half of these shipyards have failed to win a contract since the start of 2016.

If the current shipbuilding cycle were to follow the same pattern as in the 1970s, we would only be 7-8 years in, with a full recovery still some way away. However, the situation will improve if contracting levels increase. Trade growth, the replacement of older, less efficient ships and stricter environmental regulation could support yard capacity in the future through a recovery in newbuild demand.

Looking back at the shipbuilding cycle of the 1970s, it is clear that the industry has faced similar challenges in the past. It seems unlikely that we have reached the bottom of the current cycle, and pressure to remove capacity remains. Shipbuilders will be hoping that newbuild demand drivers come through quickly to stem the duration of this particular downturn.

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Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves and is one of the founding members of OPEC. Despite this, their 2.5m bpd of oil production accounts for only 3% of global output. Venezuelan oil production declined over the last decade owing to complex geology and a difficult investment climate. However, several large IOC-operated gas fields offshore Venezuela could now offer some positivity.

The Hydrocarbon El Dorado

Venezuela’s 300bn bbl of oil reserves account for 18% of current global reserves. But 220bn bbls of these reserves are onshore in the Faja, or Orinoco heavy oil belt, which has produced around 1.3m bpd in recent years. Venezuelan heavy oil grades are a key part of world oil supply: many US refineries were designed to take its heavy grades of oil together with lighter Arab crudes, meaning the country is also important for the tanker market. But production from the Faja is expensive and technically challenging, and heavy crudes sell at a discount.

Making Heavy Work Of It

After the election of Hugo Chávez in 1999, Venezuela’s oil industry came under strain as social policies were funded by oil revenues, and reinvestment declined. After the 2003 general strike, 19,000 PDVSA employees were fired and replaced with government loyalists. Furthermore, in 2007, the government looked to capitalize on the high oil price environment by nationalizing international oil companies’ (IOCs’) assets.

Offshore production was always the minor fraction of Venezuela’s output (23%). However, lack of investment in maintenance hit it hard. This was particularly true of the very shallow water production in Lake Maracaibo, which has seen drilling for more than a century. Issues of pipeline leakage and even oil piracy on the lake helped production there decline. In total, output from the Maracaibo-Falcon basin (not exclusively offshore) fell 35% between 2008 and 2015. In total, offshore production is estimated to have dropped by about 38% to 0.57m bpd.

A Brighter And Lighter Future

The current political and fiscal situation in Venezuela offers little suggestion that it will be easy to arrest decline. However, a more permissive attitude to foreign investment may help. In October, agreements were signed to allow Chinese and Bulgarian investment to fund repairs offshore Lake Maracaibo. Perhaps more significant is the promise of gas, where greater IOC participation is permitted.

Trinidad, Venezuela’s very close neighbour, tripled their offshore production from 1998-2005. Venezuela has begun to make moves in the same direction, firstly via the Cardon IV project. The first field here, Perla, started up in 2015 run by an Eni-Repsol joint venture. As the graph shows, this has already had a small, but visible effect on Venezuelan gas output. Perla has reserves of 2.85bn boe and by Phase 3 is set to be producing 1.2 bcfd. This is likely to be added to from 2019 by up to 1 bcfd of output from the long-delayed Mariscal Sucre fields.

So, Venezuela has vast reserves but production has been falling. The political situation, combined with low oil prices, is likely to hinder any rapid turnaround in oil output. However, although progress has been slow, IOC involvement has at least provided some positive impetus for gas production offshore Venezuela.

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Conventionally, the container shipping market is viewed as made up of two key elements: the freight market for moving boxes from A to B, and the charter market for hiring ships. Often these markets are happily moving in sync, but that’s not always the case. How does the relationship work and how closely have these markets moved in relation to each other, both in recent times and historically?

Happy Couple?

Let’s start with recent history. Improved fundamentals in 2016, when box trade grew by 3.8% but containership capacity expanded by just 1.2%, and into 2017, have had a twin impact on the container shipping markets. Firstly they helped the box freight market bottom out. The mainlane freight rate index (see graph) increased from 24 in Mar-16 to 73 in Jan-17, and this pattern has been mirrored across many trade lanes. Secondly, the backdrop eventually helped support a slightly improved charter market, with rates moving away from the bottom of the cycle in late Q1 2017. In theory, demand from freight market end users (shippers) filters down to the vessel charter market in the end, with additional volume driving charterers (liner companies) to access additional units (from owners).

Splits And Separations

But does the power of the fundamentals always drag the two markets along together? It is not always the case; they often move apart. Before the financial crisis, the freight market appeared somewhat less volatile than today, but that did not always see the markets in sync. Despite more than 20% cargo growth in 2005-06, and the freight market holding most of its ground, the charter rate index slumped by 47% from an all-time high of 172 in Apr-05 to 91 in Dec-06, as super-cycle peak rates proved unsustainable.

The post-downturn period has seen similar instances. The box shipping markets moved into an era of ‘micro’ management of supply (slow steaming, idling and cascading) and this has impacted both freight and charter markets. In both early 2011 and 1H 2015 charter rates rose as freight rates dropped like a stone. In 2011 the freight rate index dropped by 38% to 47 whilst the charter rate index rallied, as operators deployed additional capacity to the detriment of freight rates. But soon after the opposite occurred, and freight rates increased but charter rates dropped back to bottom of the cycle levels where they remained for the next three years.

Re-Coupling…

In the long-term, however, the two spheres do appear to be aligned. What simple inspection suggests, the numbers confirm. In only 33 of the months on the graph (21%) have the markets actually moved in opposite directions (excluding monthly movements of less than 1%).

Let’s Stick Together!

So, the two box markets do move independently at times but they often move in sync and when apart they tend to re-align (what econometricians might call an ‘error correction mechanism’). Perhaps this just confirms that ‘cargo is king’ and the supply side eventually adjusts. Whatever the case, box shipping’s famous couple can’t keep themselves apart for too long. Have a nice day.

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A few weeks ago, OPEC and other major oil producers agreed to extend 1.73m bpd of production cuts until the end of Q1 2018. Despite this, oil prices have continued to slide, with Brent failing to close above $50/bbl this week. While a range of factors have contributed to this trend, perhaps the most important is US tight oil production. So what is going on in the shale patch? And why does it matter to shipping?

How Unconventional!

If nothing else, US tight oil production retains the ability to surprise. As was noted after the OPEC meeting in May (SIW 1,273), “it remains to be seen if shale production quickly offsets” the cuts. Well, if the early signs are anything to go by, this is clearly not an impossibility.

Tight or shale oil is oil extracted from otherwise almost impermeable geology via “fracking”, a process wherein fluids mixed with sands are pumped at pressure into well bores, creating fractures in the rock through which oil and gas can flow. In terms of oil price dynamics, the key aspect of shale projects is speed: they can have lead times measured in weeks and so are very responsive to changes in oil prices. But in turn, as tight oil production ramps up, it can put pressure on prices, as recent history shows.

Remarkable Resilience

The US tight oil sector really took off in 2011, with production more than tripling from 1.70m bpd to reach a peak of 5.47m bpd in March 2015, as the graph shows. At this point, tight oil accounted for 6% of global oil supply (96m bpd) and equated to 55% of the net growth in supply from 2011. Such rapid supply growth had not been priced into markets, a key factor in the 2014 oil price plunge. A partial revival in mid-2015 was smothered as US drilling was stimulated again. And, since the US land rig count hit a new low of 380 units in May 2016, activity has again been on the up; the November 2016 OPEC deal accelerated this and the land rig count now stands at over 900 units. Tight oil production growth now equates to around 35% of the OPEC cuts. Its resilience (via cost deflation) in the face of lower oil prices continues, it seems, though it may prove self-defeating yet again. Even so, tight oil could now be a long term part of the oil price context. A few years ago, forecasters saw US tight oil production peaking circa 2020. Revised projections taking into account new technologies and updated resource surveys do not see US tight oil output peaking before the 2030s.

More Surprises?

The negative and positive implications for shipping of higher oil prices were covered in detail previously (SIW 1,273). The converse applies to lower oil prices, with offshore suffering from reduced E&P activity but the merchant fleet perhaps seeing benefits from cheaper bunkers and crude oil trade growth. Tight oil also has implications for trade flows. For example, now that export restrictions have been lifted, around 0.7m bpd of crude oil was exported from the US via tankers in Q1 2017.

So a factor that was barely on the radar a decade ago has become a key determinant of oil prices, potentially for the long haul. Moreover, tight oil has a range of ramifications for shipping that merit close monitoring. Once again, shipping appears inextricably linked to a key facet of the global economy. Have a nice day.

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In the ‘Three Card Trick’ or game of ‘Find The Lady’ beloved by hustlers everywhere, the aim is to track the movement of one item amongst three, but blink and you’ll miss it! Shipping’s orderbook appears to have its own version of this pastime, with the three largest shipowning nations, in terms of the volume of tonnage on order, swapping places frequently.

Are You Watching Closely?

Today, Japanese owners account for the largest orderbook across all owner nationalities, with 488 ships (100 GT and above) of 28.2m GT on order. This year, the size of their orderbook has surpassed that of their Chinese counterparts, leaving Japanese owners on top of this particular pile. At the same time the Japanese own the world’s second largest fleet (164.2m GT) behind Greek owners (210.1m GT). This change is the latest in a recent set of switches in the leadership of ownership of the global orderbook.

Switch One

Following the boom in ordering preceding the global economic downturn, the orderbook stood at its highest ever level (416.6m GT) in October 2008. At this point in time it was Greek owners who accounted for the largest orderbook, and by some margin, 56.5m GT, ahead of the German owners in second place with 41.4m GT (today this has dwindled to just 3.3m GT). Since then, things have largely gone one way for the Greek orderbook. Today it stands at 14.7m GT, 74% smaller than back in October 2008, and it is the third largest in the world. The Greek fleet has meanwhile maintained a healthy degree of expansion, with net asset play gains adding firmly to deliveries.

Switch Two

By start 2011 the Chinese owners’ orderbook was the world’s second largest and across the period 2012-15 it vied with the Greek orderbook for pole position before pulling ahead last year. Ordering, often state-backed, and significantly at Chinese yards, propelled the Chinese orderbook to become the world’s largest by October 2015, and today it stands at 24.8m GT (17% of the Chinese fleet), still close to the largest in dwt terms (39.1m dwt).

Switch Three

The final switch came in December 2016 when Japanese owners took the lead in the orderbook stakes. The Japanese orderbook surged in 2015 as Japanese owners contracted 22.0m GT, often bulkers (42%) and largely at domestic yards (87%). The global orderbook is much smaller than it was back in 2009 (at 136.6 m GT), but the Japanese orderbook has held its own through 2016 and into 2017 to take top spot, and today is equivalent to 17% of the Japanese fleet.

Top Hat Trick

So, against the background of a declining orderbook since 2008, the Japanese orderbook has switched from third to first position. But it’s still close and the Chinese orderbook is just 3.4m GT smaller today. Contracting has been extremely limited last year and this year so far, but at some point it will come back in greater volumes and then it will be necessary to watch the movements in the orderbook even more intently. Have a nice day.

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