Archives for category: BoxShips

In 2016 the shipping industry saw significant supply side adjustments in reaction to continued market pressures. For shipbuilders this meant a historically low level of newbuild demand with fewer than 500 orders reported in 2016, and the volume of tonnage on order declined sharply. Meanwhile, higher levels of delivery slippage and strong demolition saw fleet growth fall to its lowest level in over a decade.SIW1256

Pressure Building Up

2016 was an extremely challenging year for the shipbuilding industry. Contracting activity fell to its lowest level in over 20 years with just 480 orders reported, down 71% year-on-year. Domestic ordering proved important for many builder nations and 68% of orders in dwt terms reported at the top three shipbuilding nations were placed by domestic owners last year. Despite a 6% decline in newbuild price levels over 2016, few owners were tempted to order new ships, especially with the secondhand market offering ‘attractive’ opportunities. Only 48 bulkers and 46 offshore units were reported contracted globally last year, both record lows, and tanker and boxship ordering was limited. As a result, just 126 yards were reported to have won an order (1,000+ GT) in 2016, over 100 yards fewer than in 2015.

A Spot Of Relief

However, a record level of cruise ship and ferry ordering provided some positivity in 2016. Combined, these ship sectors accounted for 52% of last year’s $33.5bn estimated contract investment. European shipyards were clear beneficiaries, taking 3.4m CGT of orders in 2016, the second largest volume of orders behind Chinese shipbuilders’ 4.0m CGT. Year-on-year, contracting at European yards increased 31% in 2016 in terms of CGT while yards in China, Korea and Japan saw contract volumes fall by up to 90% year-on-year.

Further Down The Chain

In light of such weak ordering activity, the global orderbook declined by 29% over the course of 2016, reaching a 12 year low of 223.3m dwt at the start of January 2017. This is equivalent to 12% of the current world fleet. The number of yards reported to have a vessel of 1,000 GT or above on order has fallen from 931 yards back at the start of 2009 to a current total of 372 shipbuilders.

Final Link In The Chain

Adjustments to the supply side in response to challenging market conditions in 2016 have also been reflected in a slower pace of fleet growth. The world fleet currently totals 1,861.9m dwt, over 50% larger than at the start of 2009, but its growth rate slowed to 3.1% year-on-year in 2016. This compares to a CAGR of 5.9% between 2007 and 2016 and is the lowest pace of fleet expansion in over a decade. A significant uptick in the ‘non-delivery’ of the scheduled start year orderbook in 2016, rising to 41% in dwt terms, saw shipyard deliveries remain steady year-on-year at a reported 100.0m dwt. Further, strong demolition activity helped curb fleet growth in 2016 with 44.2m dwt reported sold for recycling, an increase of 14% year-on-year.

End Of The Chain?

So it seems that the ‘market mechanism’ has finally been kicking into action. A more modest pace of supply growth might be welcome news to the shipping industry but further down the chain shipbuilders are suffering. Contracting levels plummeted in 2016 and the orderbook is now significantly smaller. Even with the ongoing reductions in yard capacity, shipbuilders worldwide remain under severe pressure and will certainly be hoping for a more helpful reaction in 2017.

In the shipping world, ‘Santa’s Sleigh’ is the big containership fleet, which carries the goods from manufacturers in Asia to the retailers in Europe and North America in good time for consumers to prepare for the holiday season. How full the ‘sleigh’ appears to be each year gives an interesting indication of the health of the containerised freight sector.

A Tricky Sleigh Ride

Broadly, the containership sector has generated a huge potential surplus of capacity since the global financial crisis. By the end of 2016, despite the recent surge in demolition activity, 9.1 million TEU of capacity will have been added to the fleet since the end of 2008, equal to growth of 84%. During the same period box trade has grown by around 34%. For those who deliver the world’s consumer goods, this has required a huge balancing act, managing surplus supply through slower speeds, and idling of capacity. The difficulty of this has created huge volatility in freight rate levels. Meanwhile, from early 2014 freight rates seemed to have been moving sharply downhill. Goods for the holiday season are usually moved to retailers with plenty of time to spare in the peak shipping season from May to October, but nonetheless overall movements in mainlane trade and capacity deployed (see graph description) give us a good idea of how full ‘Santa’s Sleigh’ might have been.

Last Christmas

Following the acute drop in freight rates in 2014, things were looking tricky for the bearers of gifts by the end of 2015. Spurred by ‘mega-ship’ deliveries and 8% growth in the boxship fleet, mainlane running capacity grew by 5% in 2015. But trade had hit the buffers. Although there was annual peak leg volume growth of 6% on the Transpacific, peak leg Far East-Europe volumes slumped by 3% on the back of a sluggish Europe, collapsing Russian volumes and destocking by retailers (perhaps not enough folk had been well-behaved enough for Santa to pay a visit?). At one point Far East-Europe spot freight rates hit $205/TEU, catastrophically low levels for the liner companies.

Wonderful Christmastime?

But things have eventually started to look a tiny bit brighter. Disciplined capacity management (cascading and idling) allied to slower deliveries has seen mainlane capacity drop 3% this year, whilst peak leg mainlane volumes look set to be up 2% with Far East-Europe growth back in positive territory. With the collapse of Hanjin, there’s one less sleigh driver, potentially allowing others to fill up more. Mainlane freight looks like it might have bottomed out; Asia-USWC spot rates jumped from an average of $1,459/FEU in Q3 2016 to $1,732/FEU in Q4 to date.

The Best Kind Of Present

How do things look for ‘Santa’s Sleigh’ in 2017? Well, with more capacity to come, any gains will be very hard won (and for the charter owners there’s still plenty of capacity idle). But it looks like there should be further cargo growth, so the challenge for Santa will once again be to maintain an appropriate amount of space for all the gifts. If he does that, the sleigh might feel fuller next year. That would be a nice present for the liner industry.


The shipping markets have in the main been pretty icy since the onset of the global economic downturn back in 2008, but 2016 has seen a particular blast of cold air rattle through the shipping industry, with few sectors escaping the frosty grasp of the downturn. Asset investment equally appears to have been frozen close to stasis. So, can we measure how cold things have really been?

Lack Of Heat

Generally, our ClarkSea Index provides a helpful way to take the temperature of industry earnings, measuring the performance of the key ‘volume’ market sectors (tankers, bulkers, boxships and gas carriers). Since the start of Q4 2008 it has averaged $11,948/day, compared to $23,666/day between the start of 2000 and the end of Q3 2008. However, earnings aren’t the only thing that can provide ‘heat’ in shipping. Investor appetite for vessel acquisition has often added ‘heat’ to the market in the form of investment in newbuild or secondhand tonnage, even when, as in 2013, earnings remained challenged. To examine this, we once again revisit the quarterly ‘Shipping Heat Index’, which reflects not only vessel earnings but also investment activity, to see how iced up 2016 has really been.

Fresh Heat?

This year, we’ve tweaked the index a little, to include historical newbuild and secondhand asset investment in terms of value, rather than just the pure number of units. This helps us better put the level of ‘Shipping Heat’ in context. In these terms, shipping appears to be as cold (if not more so) as back in early 2009. This year the ‘Heat Index’ has averaged 36, standing at 34 in Q4 2016, which compares to a four-quarter average of 43 between Q4 2008 and Q3 2009.

Feeling The Chill

Partly, of course, this reflects the earnings environment. The ClarkSea Index has averaged $9,329/day in the year to date and is on track for the lowest annual average in 30 years. In August 2016, the index hit $7,073/day, with the major shipping markets all under severe pressure.

All Iced Up

The investment side has seen the temperature drop even further. Newbuilding contracts have numbered just 419 in the first eleven months of 2016, heading for the lowest annual total in over 30 years, and newbuild investment value has totalled just $30.9bn. Weak volume sector markets, as well as a frozen stiff offshore sector, have by far outweighed positivity in some of the niche sectors (50% of the value of newbuild investment this year has been in cruise ships). S&P volumes have been fairly steady, but the reported aggregate value is down at $11.2bn. All this has led to the ‘Shipping Heat Index’ dropping down below its 2009 low-point.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

So, in today’s challenging markets the heat is once again absent from shipping. And, in fact, on taking the temperature, things are just as icy as they were back in 2008-09 when the cold winds of recession blew in. This year has shown that after years out in the cold, it’s pretty hard for things not to get frozen up. Let’s hope for some warmer conditions in 2017.


Eight years ago, the onset of the financial crisis following the demise of Lehman Brothers heralded a generally highly challenging time for many of the shipping markets, which today remain under severe pressure. But even within the relatively short period of history since then, different sectors have fared better or worse at various points along the way. This week’s Analysis examines the cumulative impact…

What Was The Best Bet?

So how would a vessel delivered into the eye of the financial storm in late 2008 have fared? The Graph of the Week compares the performance of three standard vessel types. It shows the monthly development of cumulative earnings after OPEX from October 2008 onwards for a Capesize bulkcarrier, an Aframax tanker and a 2,750 TEU containership.

A Capesize trading at average spot earnings would have generated around $37m in total, benefitting from market spikes in 2009-10 and 2013. But with Capesize spot earnings hovering near OPEX in recent times, the cumulative earnings have not increased much since mid-2014. For a hypothetical vessel delivered in October 2008 (and ordered at the average 2006 newbuild price of $63m) those earnings would equate to close to 60% of the contract price (note that if the vessel was sold today, this would result in a net loss of c. $8m, taking into account the earnings after OPEX, newbuild cost and sales income but not finance costs).

Totting Up Tanker Takings

By contrast, Aframax tanker earnings hovered close to OPEX for several years after the downturn, with far fewer spikes than in the bulker sector. However, the 2014-15 rally in the tanker market allowed the Aframax to start playing catch-up, and cumulative Aframax earnings between October 2008 and September 2016 reached around $31m. This represents around 50% of the value of a newbuild delivered in 2008 (with a newbuild price at the 2006 average of $63m), not too far from the ratio for the Capesize.

Bad News For Box Backers

Containerships haven’t really seen similar spikes, with the charter market largely rooted at depressed bottom of the cycle levels since 2008, battling with a huge surplus created by falling consumer demand and box trade in the immediate aftermath of the crash. With earnings close to operating costs for much of the period, a 2,750 TEU unit generated cumulative earnings after OPEX of just $6m from October 2008, around 10% of the average newbuild price in 2006 ($50m). The timecharter nature of the boxship business would also have potentially reduced owners’ upside when improved rates were on offer, and there was an ongoing chunk of capacity idle too.

The Stakes Are Still High

So, despite persisting challenging conditions overall, some of the shipping markets have seen significant ups and downs since 2008. Though boxships have seen limited income, interestingly similarly priced tanker and bulker newbuilds delivered heading into the downturn might have offered roughly comparable accumulated returns on the outlay. With conditions currently weak across most sectors, owners today would surely love to see any form of accumulation again.


During July 2016, the containership fleet reached a landmark 20 million TEU in terms of aggregate capacity. To many it only seems like yesterday when the boxship fleet passed the 10 million TEU mark, back in April 2007. It took less than 10 years to double in capacity to reach the new milestone. Sprightly fleet growth indeed, but how rapid is it when compared to other parts of the world fleet?

Compound Crazy

Albert Einstein once called the impact of compound growth the ‘most powerful force in the universe’, and containership fleet capacity is a great example of this power. Total boxship capacity doubled from 5m TEU in size (in April 2001) to 10m TEU (in May 2007) in 6.2 years, and since then it has doubled in size again from 10m TEU to an astounding 20m TEU across just a further 9.3 years.

This rapid growth of the containership sector is a fairly well known story. In many respects the box sector is still a youthful part of the shipping world; since the inception of container shipping in the 1950s, the fleet has grown quickly from humble origins as trade has flourished. At the same time the fleet has upsized at a phenomenal rate. The average size of containerships in the fleet stood at 1,807 TEU in April 2001 and increased to 2,425 TEU in May 2007. Today, with behemoth boxships of over 19,000 TEU on the water, the average size of units in the fleet is 3,832 TEU, and the average size of those on order is even larger at 8,030 TEU.

Maturing Slowly

In contrast, some other shipping sectors can seem more ‘mature’, growing at a gentler rate. Tanker fleet capacity took almost 21 years to double to reach its current size of 540.9m dwt. In relative terms, the trade is indeed fairly mature, with average growth in volumes of 2.2% per annum over the last 20 years in combined crude and products trade. But interestingly, this is a sector now seeing rapid capacity growth, with an uptick in trade growth in recent years driving tanker ordering. In the last 19 months tanker fleet capacity has grown by 6.5%.

Bulk Bulge

However, the bulkcarrier fleet comfortably illustrates that the boxship sector has not been alone in experiencing rocketing growth. Although the vessels themselves may not have seen the same upsizing as boxships, bulker capacity expansion has been extraordinarily fast in recent times. Astonishingly, it took just 8.6 years from January 2008 to double to its current capacity of 784.1m dwt (though it had taken around 21 years before that to double previously). Nevertheless, bulker capacity expansion has slowed now, as dry bulk trade growth has hit the buffers.

Boom Time

So, the latest instance of a rapid doubling of fleet capacity is not a one-off. The explosion of boxship capacity has indeed been rapid, but in a world where shipbuilding output was hitting all-time highs not long ago, such growth has been a wider phenomenon. The overall world fleet has increased by 55% in dwt terms in the period since the onset of the global financial crisis in September 2008 alone. That’s a robust compound annual growth rate of 5.1%! Have a nice day, Einstein!

SIW1236 Graph of the Week

This week, containership fleet capacity has passed the 20 million TEU mark, another milestone in the rapid rise to prominence of the sector. Down the years, much of the capacity expansion has been driven by the delivery of larger and larger units at the big end of the fleet. However, the important role that smaller ‘feeder’ ships play in the container shipping network should never be overlooked.

Little And Large

Investment in containership newbuildings this year so far looks very different to the pattern seen in 2015. There was very limited investment in new boxships in 1H 2016, with just 75,000 TEU of capacity ordered compared to 2.2 million TEU in full year 2015. 1H 2016 saw 36 units contracted, and all were 3,300 TEU or below in size. This follows 104 orders for units below 3,000 TEU (‘Feeders’) in 2013, 85 in 2014 and 94 in 2015. This represents a limited, but steady flow of orders for small containerships, but, as the graph shows, the main focus in recent times has been elsewhere (especially in capacity terms). Only with a hiatus in the ordering of larger ships does the feeder element look particularly pronounced.

However, to casual observers, investment in feeder capacity might seem obviously warranted. The global liner network requires the integration of ships of all sizes, and clearly the focus of investment in recent years has been the big ships. Over 80% of capacity ordered since start 2010 has been for ships 8,000 TEU and above. But in reality it maybe hasn’t been hard to see why there has been a limited focus on investment in small and medium sized containerships. Timecharter earnings for smaller ships have languished at bottom of the cycle levels; the one year rate for a 1,700 TEU unit has averaged just $6,215/day since the end of 2008.

What’s Required?

Nevertheless, there appear to be clear drivers for future requirements. The orderbook below 3,000 TEU is limited, equivalent to 10% of fleet capacity compared to 33% above 8,000 TEU, and modern units are scarce. Demolition has picked up pace; 724 boxships have been sold for scrap since start 2012, about 70% of them below 3,000 TEU. And the feeder fleet has largely been shrinking since 2H 2011, with capacity below 3,000 TEU expected to see no real growth this year or next. Furthermore there are limits to network flexibility and the further cascading of larger ships into the feeder arena. The share of intra-regional deployment accounted for by ships 3,000 TEU and above has been fairly flat at just below 30% for some time. If extra intra-regional capacity is needed, that’s likely to mean demand for smaller units.

More On The Way?

So, it’s a broad landscape, and many market players foresee the likelihood of further activity in the feeder sector. Expectations remain of further limits to cascading and improved intra-regional trade growth (about 4% projected for intra-Asia in full year 2016). Improved charter rates, attractive pricing and available finance would help the investment case further, but the fundamentals for future requirement look supportive. Additional ordering has been on the agenda for a long while but things have taken their time. But in the box sector, sometimes the best things do (eventually) come in small packages.