In the early 1990s when shipping emerged in a fragile state from the traumas of the 1980s, raising finance was a problem. The shipping banks had taken a battering in the 1980s, and the US financial crisis had taken out the American banks. ‘Basel 1’ made getting a loan over $25m difficult, syndications were rare and the capital markets were unapproachable.

$200 Billion? No Way

Against this background, estimates that the shipping industry would need to raise $200 billion to finance investment during the 1990s seemed an impossible mountain to climb. In fact these estimates of future investment requirement, based on the need to replace the ageing fleet and allow for expansion of the key tanker, bulkcarrier and containership fleets, proved to be on the low side. During the decade investments in new ships added up to about $340 billion. And of course, miraculously, the money appeared. Syndications, club deals, capital market transactions, the German KG market and a few new banks filled the gap.

$1.4 Trillion? No Way

But history repeats itself and today the old problem of “where will the money come from?” is back on the agenda with a vengeance. This time the numbers are bigger. On our rough estimate, the cost of financing the shipping industry over the decade from 2014 to 2023 could be around $1.4 trillion. That’s a massive step up from the 90s (the chart shows investment from 1990 to 2013, with estimates to 2025). But the business has changed dramatically since the early 1990s when it was mostly about tankers, bulkcarriers and containerships. In the coming decade only half the investment (about $760 billion) is to finance the replacement and expansion of these core fleets.

New Investment Era

The other half consists of sectors which, in the early 1990s, had little impact (partly, perhaps, because there weren’t many statistics). Two market segments which look likely to generate a lot of value-added over the coming decade are LNG tankers and cruise ships. These are not newcomers; they have been around for years. But the changing world economy seems likely, in different ways, to boost investment in these segments very substantially, and together they account for about 20% of the projected investment.

The other big segment of potential investment for the shipyards is offshore. In the early 1990s that was, like the proverbial dodo, an extinct entity, with little business on offer. But the relentless pressure on energy supplies, both oil and gas, and the focus on mobile facilities, suggests this might account for as much as 30% of future shipyard investment.

Spend, Spend, Spend

So there you have it. Shipping needs the investment, but where will the money come from? Most analysts agree there’s a tidal wave of cash sloshing around the world, looking for a home with a good story. Unfortunately shipping’s financial story remains a bit patchy, but the reassuring lesson of the 1990s is that there’s always someone who will find a way to do the business. Who will it be this time? Well, that’s the trillion dollar question. Have a nice day.