Recent economic news has been dominated by events in two countries. Headlines have focussed on Greece and its ongoing bailout woes and possible ‘Grexit’, as well as on China and the slump in its stock market and the impact on the wider economy. In the shipping sector, trends in the development of the world fleet are equally tortuous and, once again these two countries play a leading role.

World Leaders

In terms of ownership Greek and Chinese ownership interests are amongst the most prominent on the planet. The Greek owned fleet at 314.3m dwt is the largest in the world, and Greek owners also account for the largest orderbook today (48.5m dwt). Chinese owners meanwhile account for the world’s third largest fleet at 199.6m dwt and until very recently accounted for the largest orderbook (today 45.9m dwt).

Greeks Buy Gifts

Greek owners have long been shipping’s great asset players. As the graph shows their fleet is currently growing by just above 5% y-o-y. The expansion of the Greek fleet has been partly driven by newbuild investment, with delivery of 56.6m dwt since start 2012, 14% of the world total. But their acquisition of secondhand assets has also been key. Since start 2012, Greek owners reportedly accounted for ‘net acquisitions’ (reported purchases less reported sales) of 35.5m dwt, not far below the level of their delivered tonnage – a useful way to grow the fleet.

Chinese Take Away

Chinese fleet growth stood at a heady 15.8% y-o-y back at start 2012, but today stands at 3.6%. What’s been going on? Since start 2012, Chinese owners have taken delivery of 61.3m dwt, even more than Greek owners, but they have been much less pronounced ‘net acquirers’ of secondhand tonnage (5.0m dwt). Chinese owners have also been demolishing ships backed by the state scrapping subsidy which also encourages newbuilding. This is another way to renew the fleet, but growth has slowed. However, the Chinese orderbook is equal to 23% of its fleet, so expansion looks set to return.

A Third Way?

A third economy never far from the news is Japan, and Japanese owners remain today the world’s second largest owner of tonnage with 249.9m dwt. Japan’s fleet growth has clearly slowed, from 7.4% at start 2012 to 0.9% today. In this period, Japanese owners have been ‘net sellers’ by a huge 38.0m dwt. But this year they are also very nearly the world’s leading ordering nation, placing contracts of 5.5m dwt, 15% of the world total, so despite being a clear secondhand asset divestor, their fleet should be on the way to faster growth in the future once again.

More Headlines

So, focussing on the developments in these fleets shows that there’s more than one approach to being a pre-eminent owner nation. And today’s fleet and orderbook suggest that, whatever the state of their domestic economies, owners from these three countries will retain their position in the headlines for some time yet. Have a nice day.

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