SIW1087Amazing how the obvious doesn’t always happen. When Lehman Bros collapsed 5 years ago banks stopped trading with each other, letters of credit became a nightmare, and the financial system was close to collapse. Against this background shipping analysts looked at the enormous shipbuilding orderbook and concluded that it wouldn’t be deliv-ered.

Orderbook Out of Order

The problems seemed insurmounta-ble. The orderbook was an enormous 584m dwt, 47% of the fleet, with a contract value of $542bn. The first obstacle was that the banks had too many problems with their existing ship loan portfolios to contemplate adding another $200-300bn. Secondly, bulkers, backbone of the boom, were in free-fall. Cape rates peaked at more than $200,000/day in June 2008 but by November were down to less than $4,000/day. Meanwhile values had crashed from $155m in July for a 5 year old Cape, to $45m at year end. Finally, with the world economy in meltdown, maritime lawyers were burning the midnight oil trying to break contracts. Obviously the orderbook was on the slipway to oblivion.

Steady as She Goes, Sailor

But that’s not what happened. The end 2008 orderbook was spectacu-lar (see line in chart), with scheduled deliveries of 179m dwt in 2009, 197m dwt in 2010 and 155 m dwt in 2011. It was the big-gest shipbuilding boom ever, expanding output to ten times the 1990 level. And most of it did get delivered.

Actual deliveries are shown by the bars in the chart. Between 2009 and 2012 the total tonnage of ships delivered was 587m dwt. That is higher than the end 2008 or-derbook of 584m dwt. Of course there were quite a few cancellations along the way and some heroic ordering in 2010. But one way or another, yards did their job and removed all doubt that once the shipbuilding juggernaut gets going, it really does deliver.

Three Wheels on My Wagon

In deadweight, actual deliveries peaked at 164m dwt in 2011, about 20% below the original scheduled peak. But the yards have hung on pretty well. In 2012 they delivered a massive 154m dwt and the cur-rent forecast for 2013 is 123m dwt, followed by 100m dwt in 2014. Measured in CGT, a better guide to work content, this year world shipyard capacity will still be operating at around 80% of its peak level, an outcome that seemed implausible five years ago. This is partly due to yards’ success in diversifying. Offshore, gas and containers all played a part as did the enthusiasm of bulker investors.

Five Years Into the Crisis

So there you have it. The orderbook got delivered, the fleet is 40% bigger than at the end of 2008 and all those extra ships are carrying cargo at a more leisurely pace. The banks have struggled through, and despite everything, investors have hung onto their enthusiasm for bulk carriers. Obvi-ously none of this was expected. But don’t expect to see 164m dwt deliveries again in a hurry. Have a nice day.