Bulkcarrier investors are generally an optimistic lot, with little time for pessimistic analysts. They know that however gloomy the forecasts, some time they will make a nice profit. After all, the ships last 30 years, especially small bulkers and a lot can happen in that time. But occasionally even they get gloomy and that seems to have happened today.
Bottom Fishing For A Bonus
It’s easy to see why. The Baltic Dry Index has hit all-time lows and Capesizes, which were supposed to be gold-plated investments in a world dominated by China, are looking decidedly tarnished. Nearly new ships have been chartering for well under $10,000/day and it’s been going on for a long time. These moments of deep negative sentiment are often a good time to invest, especially if finance is in short supply. It happened in 1986 when a new Panamax bulker cost $13.5m and a 5 year old ship cost $6m, and again in 1999 when new Panamax prices slumped below $20m and a 5 year old ship was sold for $13.5m. 10 years later these ships became profitable beyond the dreams of even the most optimistic investors, grossing over $100m in earnings and capital gains. Could this be another magic moment?
Deep negative sentiment generally occurs when everything goes wrong at the same time. In the 1980s the world economy went into deep recession after the second oil crisis. Surplus bulker capacity was topped up by heavy deliveries, which the closure of shipyards did little to neutralise. Banks were too preoccupied with defaulting clients to consider new loans. In 1997-99 the Asia crisis, which coincided with a surge of deliveries after the brief 1995 bulker boom, left investors wondering if they would ever see light at the end of the tunnel. China was not even on the radar.
Today’s bulker outlook is also gloomy. The global steel industry is under immense pressure, and an increasing focus on clean energy is souring the outlook for coal consumption. Chinese dry bulk imports have dropped, and prospects for Indian coal imports have also worsened. So after a decade when seaborne dry bulk grew at nearly 200mt a year, in 2015 trade is set to decline. Meanwhile the surplus is being topped up by deliveries.
Searching For Silver
But there are a few positives. Cheap oil at $40/bbl is putting money in everyone’s pocket. Bulker ordering has slumped to 13m dwt this year; demolition is up 70%; fleet growth is down to 3%; and China seems keen on its ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, which could add to trade.
The Magic Number?
So there you have it. But there is one other interesting factor to consider. Somehow the tanker sector is generating very impressive earnings in a market which, on the basis of fundamental analysis, is also carrying surplus capacity. Slow steaming can help, and maybe that’s good advice. This may not be a magic moment like 1999, but, take it easy, keep your eyes open and maybe there’s a silver lining somewhere out there for the right ship. Have a nice day.