Down the years, shipbuilders have always entered and exited the business as cycles have progressed, but over the past decade developments have been dramatic. Back in 2007, 220 shipyards secured at least one order for a unit of 20,000 dwt or above in size, but in 2015 just 101 yards were successful in doing so. What have been the characteristics of such acute changes in the shipbuilding landscape?

Following The Plot

 ‘Fatal Attraction’ was an 1980s thriller movie in which a weekend affair resulted in a tricky predicament. Having had its fling with investors, it could be said that the shipbuilding industry has also found itself in severe distress. At the climax of the newbuilding investment boom in 2007, 220 yards took an order (for a vessel of 20,000 dwt or above), up 80% on the number in 2005. However, the global economic downturn ended the ‘affair’ and the number of yards to take an order fell 45% in 2009. Chinese state subsidies reignited old flames in 2010, when 190 yards attracted an order (62% were located in China) and countercyclical ordering helped support around 130 yards in 2013 and 2014, but the general trend has been a steady fall in the number of shipyards successful in attracting orders in the recent investment environment.

Character Development

In 2015, 1,083 orders (20,000 dwt and above) were placed at 101 yards globally, and of the yards who took an order in 2007, only 80 (36% of the total) were successful in doing so last year. Shipbuilders who ‘left the scene’ in this period included many Chinese yards (87), generally focussed on the bulker sector, as well as a number of European yards (17) finally ceding to Asian competition.

The solid line on the graph represents the number of yards taking 20 or more orders each year. This number has fluctuated less than the total number of yards taking orders, reflecting the more consistent part of the industry, including established Korean yards and ‘top tier’ Chinese state yards (27 different yards have appeared in this grouping since 2010). The dotted line shows yards who have received five or less orders each year, and reflects the more vulnerable end of the business, making up 51% of yards who took an order in 2007, but accounting for an average of 37% of the total between 2013 and 2015. 62% of yards in this grouping who took a contract in 2007 have not received an order since 2012.

No Alternate Ending?

On a more positive note, despite the fall in the number of yards to take a contract in 2015, six of the 18 yards to take 20 or more orders took their largest number of contracts since 2007 last year. For the first time this decade the largest number of these yards were in Japan (7).

Nevertheless, the environment clearly remains severely challenging. In 1H 2016, 97 orders were reported placed (for units 20,000 dwt or above) across just 27 yards. Though there may be some late reporting, and optimism from some quarters that 2H 2016 could see increased contract volumes, changes to the industry landscape appear to have been stark (and for some ‘fatal’). Over the second half of this year, market observers should continue to watch the drama closely