The development of the global merchant fleet is affected by a very broad range of interwoven supply and demand factors, including shipping and commodity cycles, investor sentiment, regulatory concerns, yard capacity and so on. Another factor is shore-side infrastructure projects, which can be tricky to disentangle from the wider web, though this influence is a little clearer on, for example, the LNG carrier sector…

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

By the late 1800s, the shipping industry had been transformed by the introduction of steam power and iron ships. Coal and grain were two of the most important cargoes, alongside timber, sugar, cotton and tea. While technology, the sheer scale of the business, and the global cargo mix, have of course all changed since then, dry bulk cargoes have retained a position at the heart of global seaborne trade.

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

The Wall Street Crash in 1929 marked the onset of the Great Depression in the US. Times were tough, but jazz music, which had taken off in the 1920s, endured and evolved into the era of big bands and swing music now synonymous with the 1930s. The crude tanker sector is having a tricky time of its own at present, but over the last decade, crude trade patterns have seen their own evolutionary swing…

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

Now that half the year has passed, a review of offshore project sanctioning might be timely. Activity has picked up in 2017, especially for larger projects with CAPEX allocations of at least $500m. The uptick in FIDs has coincided with improved E&P budget guidance from many IOCs. So oil price volatility notwithstanding, could this be an sign of generally improving prospects for larger offshore projects?

Large Projects On The Rise

Offshore field project sanctioning reached a peak of 120 FIDs in 2012. Since then, sanctioning activity has been under pressure from a range of factors, most notably the weaker energy price environment that has prevailed since 2H 2014. Indeed, oil company E&P spending cuts induced by the falling oil price in 2015 precipitated a 33% decline in FIDs that year. Larger projects (with an estimated CAPEX of at least $500m) have been hit the worse, with the number of such developments in 2016 to receive an FID down by 60% on 2012. In comparison, the number of smaller projects sanctioned in 2016 was down by a less severe 32% on 2012.

However, 2017 is (so far) looking rather more promising: 31 offshore field projects received FIDs in 1H 2017, of which 48% were larger projects. Among these were Coral FLNG Ph.1 ($7bn), Leviathan Ph.1 ($3.75bn), Liza Ph.1 ($3.2bn) and Njord A Upgrade ($1.6bn). FIDs have been stimulated by the higher (albeit volatile) oil price, as well as by successes in reducing offshore project costs (by around 30-40% on start 2014, on average).

Small Runs Rule

That being said, while it is true that sanctioning of larger projects seems to be on the rise, it is important to note that many such projects (including all those named above bar Liza Ph.1) were conceived pre-downturn and were on the verge of obtaining an FID in 2014. This implies that the recent uptick in large-project activity may not be sustainable, especially as the backlog of such projects continues to fall. Indeed, the history of start-up delays and cost over-runs at mega-projects such as Kashagan Ph.1 ($48bn) and Greater Gorgon Ph.1 ($55bn) had already prompted operators to rethink the viability of larger offshore projects even before the oil price downturn. Onshore US basins are also potentially problematic for offshore projects, insofar as they compete (quite effectively) for scarce investment dollars.

Efficiency Matters

As a result of these considerations, operators have been downsizing many of the other large-scale projects planned prior to the fall in the oil price. Browse is set to use two FPSOs instead of three FLNGs, for example, while Bonga SW “Lite” now entails an FPSO with a processing capacity 33% smaller than before. Many operators are also placing more emphasis on subsea tiebacks to existing facilities, instead of major new offshore hubs (even if this means lower production volumes). Adapting to the potential “lower for longer” oil price outlook thus seems to be a priority for many upstream players.

So although FIDs at larger projects have picked up, looking beyond the backlog of projects from before the downturn, such developments seem to be less in favour. Scratching the surface, small projects are at least an offshore outlet for upstream investment and in the long run, perhaps cost savings cemented post-2014 might make large projects more competitive.


It is over a year now since the opening of the new, expanded locks at the Panama Canal. The new locks have had a significant impact on a number of areas of shipping, including the gas carrier sector, but the main focus of the project in Panama was always the container trade, and the Asia-US East Coast route in particular. In that regard, how do things look a little over one year on?

Old For New

The new locks at the Panama Canal opened for transit on 26th June 2016, and the impact on the box shipping sector has been largely in line with expectations. The key area of impact was always going to be the Transpacific trade, and the Asia-US East Coast route in particular, the largest volume trade through the canal. Following the opening, the Asia-USEC route immediately saw swift upsizing of ‘Old Panamax’ containerships, being replaced by ‘Neo-Panamax’ units, with operators aiming to benefit from the economies of scale offered by running larger vessels through the canal. Regular deployment of ‘Old Panamaxes’ on the Asia-USEC route via the canal has fallen from 156 units in June 2016 to 30 today.

The total of ‘Old Panamaxes’ on the broader Transpacific trade now stands at 76, including some still operated via Suez to the USEC and from Asia to the USWC. However, there are around 35 ‘Old Panamaxes’ idle, and in total (based on a wide definition of 3,000+ TEU and ‘Old Panamax’ beam) 101 have been scrapped since start 2016. Having said all that, there are still many of these units deployed elsewhere, with, on the same definition, over 450 outside the Transpacific.

Bigging It Up

Looking upwards, the initial impact last summer was a speedy upsizing of tonnage to ‘Neo-Panamaxes’. This, as expected, basically jumped the class of sub-8,000 TEU ‘wide beam’ ships; just 22 of those serve Asia-USEC today. Instead it focussed immediately on the 8-11,999 TEU ships, and today there are 93 of those deployed on the Asia-USEC. And now even units as large as 12,000+ TEU are getting in on the act, with 9 deployed Asia-USEC, taking total deployment of new ‘wider beam’ units there to 124.

Switching Off?

This is all against a backdrop of robust growth on the Transpacific, with peak leg eastbound trade up by 8% y-o-y in Jan-May 2017. However, there hasn’t been any early sign of ‘cargo switching’ with flows proving ‘sticky’, even if USEC infrastructure constraints are diminishing (lifts at the 5 leading USEC ports as a share of lifts at the 5 major USWC ports is steady at c.80%). And interestingly the additional capacity on the Asia-USEC trade from the surge in upsizing has eroded the average Asia-USEC/Asia-USWC spot box freight rate ‘premium’ only gently, from 94% in 1H 2016 to 76% in 1H 2017.

More Time Required?

So, plenty of questions remain. Will the Panamaxes finally fully depart the trade? Will a ‘cargo switch’ eventually evolve? How will the freight market trend? One year may have passed but it appears more time is needed to assess in full the longer-term impact of the new Panama locks on box shipping. Have a nice day.

Graph of the week

In the metal and mineral bulk trades, as in the heavy metal music scene, a few very big names often end up dominating the headlines: metal has the likes of Metallica, Rammstein and Judas Priest; mining bulk has iron ore and coal. But in both cases, the triumphs and travails of the smaller names can often be just as riveting and indicative of the broader trends as those of the superstars…

Atlas, Rise!

The ‘mining bulks’ consist of the metallic and mineral outputs of the extractive industries (and substitutes such as scrap metal destined for blast furnaces) typically shipped in bulkcarriers. Seaborne trade in mining bulks is projected to stand at 3,415mt in 2017. Unsurprisingly, the ‘mining’ major bulks of iron ore and coal predominate in the forecast. Even so, ‘mining’ minor bulks (a range of commodities utilised primarily in metallurgy such as bauxite, manganese ore, nickel ore, copper concentrate and coke) still make up a respectable 22% of the projection. As part of the cargo creating demand for a bulker fleet of over 11,000 vessels, the mining minor bulks are no minor matter.

As for demand for the mining minor bulks, while there are numerous importers, China has been the main driver of seaborne trade growth. Since the start of the century, seaborne trade in mining minor bulks has increased at a CAGR of 3.4% whereas imports into China have grown at a CAGR of 16%. The disparities are just as apparent in specific areas such as bauxite/alumina (4.5% versus 21%) and other non-ferrous ores (8.5% versus 20%, with metals like manganese used in steel alloys). Indeed, China accounts for more than 50% of growth in seaborne mining minor bulk imports since 2000. Just as in shipping and seaborne trade generally, China has played a key role in mining minor bulk trade growth.

Reise, Reise

The picture is more complex on the supply side, with mining minor bulks sourced from a range of countries, none accounting for more than 9% of total exports. Developing countries are prominent. For example, the Philippines is projected to account for 75% of nickel ore exports in 2017, Guinea for 45% of bauxite exports and Chile for 38% of copper concentrate exports. Some developed economies like Australia are involved, but on the whole, trends in mining minor bulk further confirm the ongoing diversification of shipping trade networks, particularly between China and other developing economies.

Metal Meltdown

As the Graph of the Month shows, mining minor bulk trade can also be very volatile, another common feature of seaborne trade. Mining minor bulk volatility is in part due to political risk factors such as strikes and government policy. Indonesia accounted for 57% (65mt) of seaborne nickel ore exports in 2013; by 2015, it was exporting no nickel ore at all following the mineral ore export ban introduced to boost the domestic smelting sector.

So the mining minor bulks are in sense akin to more obscure heavy metal bands. They may be complex and often idiosyncratic but certain key themes are apparent: the impact of China, the emergence of new trade patterns and market volatility, each illustrating broader trends in shipping too. Have a nice day.


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.