Archives for category: Capesize

After another year of extremely difficult market conditions, many would forgive liner sector players for an air of resignation. However, despite a challenging freight market, charter rates remaining firmly in the doldrums and a major corporate casualty, looking back 2016 may well be seen as the year in which the container shipping sector really started to tackle its problems head on.SIW1255

Sustained Struggles

The container shipping sector has spent much of the post-financial crisis era under severe pressure and, as many expected, 2016 proved no real exception. Box freight rates in general remained weak, and the SCFI Composite Index averaged 18% lower in 2016 than in 2015. However, by late in the year it did appear that spot freight rates might be bottoming out on some trade lanes.

Against this backdrop, charter market vessel earnings remained extremely challenged, at bottom of the cycle levels. The one year rate for a 2750 TEU ship averaged $6,000/day in 2016, 37% lower than in 2015. ‘Old Panamax’ types fared even worse, averaging $4,979/day in 2016, 58% down on 2015, with the opening of the new locks at the Panama Canal impacting vessel deployment patterns.

Fundamental Traction?

Nevertheless, sector fundamentals did appear a little more positive in 2016. Demand conditions improved, with global volumes expanding by an estimated 3% in the full year to 181m TEU. Volumes on the key Far East-Europe trade returned to positive growth and the rate of expansion on intra-Asian trades accelerated back to more robust levels. However North-South volumes and trade into the Middle East remained under severe pressure from the impact of diminished commodity prices, though volumes into the Indian Sub-Continent grew strongly.

Meanwhile, containership capacity growth slowed significantly in 2016, reaching just 1.2% in the full year. Deliveries fell dramatically to 0.9m TEU (from 1.7m in 2015) and demolition accelerated rapidly to a new record of 0.7m TEU.

Still A Surplus

However, given the level of surplus built up in the post-Lehman years, and in particular the impact of the delivery of substantial capacity, much of it in the form of new ‘megaships’, the improved supply-demand balance seen last year was not enough to generate any significant improvement in market conditions. At the end of 2016, around 7% of total fleet capacity stood idle. The financial collapse of major Korean operator Hanjin was a further illustration of the acute distress facing both operators and owners.

Getting To Grips?

So, further recalibration still appears to be necessary to generate better markets. However, 2016 might also be seen as the year in which the sector finally started to lay real foundations for a better future. Demolition hit a new record, and financial distress and regulatory requirements are expected to drive further recycling. The ordering of newbuild capacity dropped to just 0.2m TEU in 2016, a dramatic halt.

Meanwhile, further significant steps in the consolidation of the sector were taken in the form of merger and acquisition activity involving major operators; the top 10 now deploy 70% of all boxship capacity, a figure set to rise to around 80%. Building blocks only these factors may be, but many will hope that at last container shipping is starting to build towards something more positive than the gloomy conditions that perpetuated in 2016.

Every year, readers of the Shipping Intelligence Weekly are invited to submit their predictions of the value of the ClarkSea Index at the start of November the following year. The predictions are always illuminating, indicating how market watchers feel the shipping markets may pan out in the coming year, as well as shedding light on how well they have fared in avoiding potential forecasting ‘traps’…

Treading Carefully

So far in 2016, the ClarkSea Index has averaged $9,131/day, 37% lower than the full year 2015 average, with earnings in each of the sectors that comprise the ClarkSea Index down in 2016. Although there was a general consensus that tanker and LPG carrier earnings would come off this year, with accelerating fleet growth expected, some were hopeful that earnings in the bulkcarrier and containership sectors had bottomed out and would see some upside. Whilst these views on the tanker and gas carrier sectors appear to have played out broadly as expected, year to date average bulker and containership earnings currently stand 20% and 33% down on full year 2015 average levels respectively, and on November 4th the ClarkSea Index stood at $9,207/day.

Avoiding The Traps?

In the past, the ClarkSea Index competition has often indicated that participants expect the market to improve in the coming year. However, this year, many participants have avoided this potential ‘trap’, with just one third of entrants expecting (or perhaps hoping) that the ClarkSea Index would stand above the full year 2015 average on 4th November 2016. In fact, only 20% of entrants expected the ClarkSea Index to improve to $15,000/day or above at that point in time.

However, the majority of participants’ entries failed to avoid another ‘pitfall’ of forecasting, not expecting (or perhaps not wishing) that overall market conditions would deteriorate further. Rather expectations appeared to be that the ClarkSea Index would remain broadly steady. Overall, the average of the entries was $13,442/day, broadly in line with the 2015 average of $14,410/day, with around 70% of competition entrants predicting that the ClarkSea Index would stand between $11,000/day and $15,000/day on the first week of November.

Circumventing The Pitfalls

As those in shipping are all too aware, predicting how the markets as a whole will fare in the year ahead is a tricky task, especially when considering the often contrasting fortunes of the sectors that make up the ClarkSea Index. Throw the issue of timing that prediction to a single week into the mix, and side-stepping the various traps becomes even harder. The average of the predictions was more than $4,000/day away from the actual result.

So, the ClarkSea Index highlights the still very challenging market conditions, and although some of the optimism of previous competition entries was not so evident this year, it was still the case that the majority of predictions were too high. Nevertheless, the competition as always provided one winner. This year’s closest prediction was a forecast of $9,042/day, just $165 away from the actual value. Congratulations to the winning entrant; the champagne is on its way.


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.


Looking at the ratio between newbuild and secondhand prices is a classic method of examining the state of various shipping sectors. But the metrics can be just as revealing at the older end of the market. Trends in the ratio between scrap values and secondhand prices for elderly vessels can shine further light on the health of the shipping markets, and can also have implications for fleet dynamics.

Health Check

Particularly stark signs of the current ill health of the key shipping sectors are apparent in the market dynamics for older units. With global steel prices determining ship scrap values (effectively the ‘floor’ for elderly secondhand vessel prices), the ratio of prices for older ships to estimated scrap values varies in line with market conditions. When markets are weak, investors may attribute little premium to the short-term earnings potential of elderly vessels, and secondhand prices for these ships can fall close to the scrap value.

On Life Support?

In the bulker sector, the ratio between assessments of 15 year old prices and scrap values has fluctuated dramatically. At end August 2016, amidst a depressed earnings environment, the price for a 15 year old Capesize stood at $8.0m, only 1.3 times the estimated Capesize scrap value of $6.2m, with the 20 year old price close to scrap value. These ratios have fallen in recent years as the market outlook has deteriorated, but even a 15 year old/scrap price ratio of over 2.0 in mid-2014 was a far cry from 2005-08 when 15 year old Capesize prices averaged more than 5 times scrap value, with ‘boom’ bulker earnings inflating asset values.

A similar trend has emerged in the containership sector. With charter rates largely in the doldrums since start 2012, the 15 year old price for a 2,000 TEU boxship has remained close to scrap value. Particular stress is also evident in the ‘old Panamax’ sector, with the price for a 15 year old 4,400 TEU ship now assessed at $5m, in line with estimated scrap values. In contrast, ratios in the tanker sector have generally risen in recent years. The 15 year old VLCC price was 3.5 times scrap value in early 2016, up from 1.3 times in early 2015. However, the ratio has recently dropped in line with weaker tanker earnings.

Elders On The Edge

As well as illustrating market trends, these ratios also influence fleet developments. Weaker markets and lower price ratios typically lead to more ships being scrapped rather than sold secondhand, as the ‘market mechanism’ helps to reduce oversupply. Across the bulker and containership sectors, over 70% of transactions of vessels 15+ years old since start 2012 have been accounted for by demolition sales, compared to just 11% in 2005-07. Increasingly young vessels are also being scrapped as a result.

Looking Poorly?

So, price ratios for older units can prove a useful indicator of the state of the markets. For assets generally expected to have a lifespan of 25 years or more, the historically low ratios of even 15 year old vessel prices to scrap values in some sectors is a clear and sobering reminder of the challenges still being faced.