It has been well documented that newbuild orders have slowed substantially in 2015, with 857 contracts recorded at yards in the first three quarters of the year, down 45% from 2014 on an annualised basis. However, it’s also clear that builders in the big three shipbuilding countries have experienced differing fortunes. Looking beyond the aggregate trend, what has driven the divergent outcomes?
In 2015 so far, the newbuilding market has seen subdued ordering activity. In the first three quarters, shipyards globally took orders equivalent to 24.3m CGT (compensated gross tonnes, a measure of shipyard ‘work’ or capacity). This compares to a total of 43.9m CGT in full year 2014. However, the big three builder countries have experienced significantly different fortunes. Chinese yards have been hit extremely hard, with new contracts in CGT terms down by 49% on an annualised basis. New contracts at Japanese yards, meanwhile, have dropped by a more moderate 14%, whilst ordering in Korea has fallen by 7%, not too bad when global contracting is down by 26%.
Exposed To A Changing Mix
What explains the difference? Many factors are at play but foremost is the ‘product mix’ – the type of units ordered. And even more so, it’s the mix in the context of the ‘exposure’ or track record that each builder nation has in the key vessel sectors. The graph illustrates ordering in selected sectors in the major builder countries alongside their ‘exposure’.
The bulker sector lies at the heart of Chinese yards’ fortunes this year. Global bulker orders of 2.6m CGT (152 units) are down by 77% on an annualised basis (to 11% of orders globally). In 2014 China took 9.2m CGT of bulker orders, but in 2015 ytd has taken only 0.5m CGT. This accounts for 8% of total Chinese orders of 6.3m CGT this year, but over the previous five years bulkers have accounted for 57% of contracting in China (and 39% of contracts globally). China’s exposure to bulkers comes at a price now that the product mix has shifted.
Anyone Well Set?
Boxships and tankers have accounted for 61% of global ordering in the ytd, and Korean builders’ exposure to these sectors (23% and 28% respectively in 2010-14) has stood them in good stead. These types have accounted for 71% of the total 8.8m CGT of contracts placed in Korea in the ytd, with the major yards more focussed on boxships and medium-sized builders on tankers. In Japan, meanwhile, product switching has helped. Japanese builders have historically been highly exposed to bulkers (64% in 2010-14, and 29% even in 2015 ytd) but an increased focus on tankers and boxships (23% and 29% in 2015 ytd respectively), and support from domestic ordering, has allowed them to plug into today’s product mix, taking 6.0m CGT of orders in the ytd.
Monitoring The Exposure
So, aggregate building trends tell part of the story but product mix developments can be critical too. As every good trader knows, understanding your exposure is important. Sometimes this can be managed, and sometimes not, but it generally explains a lot. Have a nice day.