Archives for category: Containers

Many of shipping’s asset markets appear to offer a fairly reasonable level of liquidity most of the time, but just like the “Karma Chameleon” in the 1983 No.1 song, sometimes this can “come and go” due to a variety of factors. Recently, it appears that S&P market liquidity has been coming on strong in the main volume sectors, and once again there appear to be a number of different drivers behind the changes…

You Come And Go…

As in all economic asset markets, liquidity can change its hue according to the market environment, depending on the appetite of potential buyers and sellers to transact at a given level against a backdrop of a range of factors, including the availability of finance. From much lower or dropping levels of liquidity just a year or so ago, it seems that today S&P market liquidity has been on the up, with things looking increasingly active recently. The graph indicates, for the three main volume sectors, the monthly level of liquidity in terms of the volume of reported sales (in vessel numbers) on an annualised basis, as a percentage of the existing fleet at the start of each month. A 6-month moving average (6mma) is then taken to remove some of the month-to-month volatility and illustrate the general trend.

By George! A New High…

The lines on the graph (unlike in the song lyrics they’re not “red, gold and green”…) show how quickly the liquidity has risen in the main sectors. For bulkcarriers the 6mma has jumped from 4.1% in Feb-16 to 7.2% in Apr-17. In the tanker sector, it increased from 3.3% in Apr-16 to 4.6% in Mar-17, and in the containership sector it has leapt from 2.3% in Feb-16 to 5.5% last month. On a combined basis across the three sectors, the 6mma has increased from 3.5% in Feb-16 to 6.0% in Apr-17, and the monthly figure for Feb-17 reached 9.7%. The 6.0% figure represents the highest 6mma level of liquidity since the onset of the financial crisis in late 2008 (the low point being 2.5% and the average across the period 4.3%).

S&P’s Big Hits…

However, on inspection the drivers look a little different. In the bulkcarrier sector, as has been widely reported, with some improvements in freight market conditions buyer appetite appears to be back, and has driven pricing upwards. Reported sales volumes in the first four months of 2017 stood at 277 units, up more than 50% y-o-y. In the tanker sector, liquidity appears to be coming back after a period in which, against easing markets, prices may have been too high for buyers’ tastes. Again, volumes in the first four month are up by more than 50% y-o-y. In the boxship sector, meanwhile, it’s different once again, with distressed sales to the fore after the cumulative impact of markets which have until now been in the doldrums for some time. Mar-17 saw an all-time record monthly level of containership sales (44) and the year to date figure is closing in on the full year 2016 total.

In The Culture Club?

So, S&P liquidity can come and go, and recently it has clearly been on the way up. For those trying to transact to access tonnage, or exit the market, that’s a big help, and it’s good news too for asset players, an enduring part of the shipping market’s culture. Have a nice day!


In the high jump ‘the scissors’ was one of a number of techniques eventually superseded by Dick Fosbury’s ‘Flop’, which saw the American athlete win the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The container shipping market has seen a bit of ‘flop’ of its own in recent years but today a return to the ‘scissors’ appears to be providing some helpful support at last…

The Flop

It has been clear to market watchers that containership earnings have spent most of the period since the onset of the global financial crisis back in 2008 at bottom of the cycle levels. The Analysis in SIW 1,245 illustrated how cumulative earnings in the sector in that time proved a bit of a flop, and notably so in comparison to those in the tanker and bulker sectors. However, it’s fair to say that things have started to look a little bit better recently.

Jumping Back

The first building block was that the freight market appeared to bottom out in the second half of last year, with improvements in box spot rates on a range of routes backed by careful management of active capacity. In the first quarter of 2017, the mainlane freight rate index averaged 64 points, up 42% on the 2016 average. However, containership charter rates remained in the doldrums into 2017, with the timecharter rate index stuck at a historically low 39 points at the end of February, before the market picked up sharply during March taking the index to 47 (though since then market moves have been largely sideways). This change in conditions was partly supported by liner companies moving quickly to charter to meet the requirements of new alliance service structures, but how much were fundamentals also driving things?

Well, the start of some upward movement at last was to some extent in line with expectations, with demand growth expected to outpace supply expansion this year, and no doubt accelerated charterer activity helped too. However, the market received additional impetus from recent sharp shifts in supply and demand.

Doing The Scissors

The lines on the graph (see description) show y-o-y growth in box trade and containership capacity; this is where the scissors come in. In 2015, capacity growth reached 8%, and remained ahead of trade growth until Q4 2016 when the lines crossed. In 2017, with capacity declining by 0.1% in Q1, backed by historically high demolition, and trade growth, notably in Asia, pushing along nicely, a big gap between the two lines has opened up. Demand is projected to outgrow supply this year (by c.4% to c.2%), but not by quite as much as seen so far. Full year expectations may be a little more restrained, but it’s still a helpful switch.

Going For Gold

So, in the case of the recent changes in containership earnings, maybe a bit of extra heat from the charterers’ side helped, but it looks like fast-moving fundamentals have offered some support too. Perhaps it all goes to show that old methods can sometimes be as good as new ones, and right now boxship investors should be happy to forget the ‘flop’ and focus on the return of the ‘scissors’.

SIW1269:Graph of the Week

We’re well into the Year of the Rooster in China now, but trade figures for last year are still coming in and it’s interesting to see what a major impact China still had in 2016. Economic growth rates may have slowed, and the focus of global economic development may have diversified to an extent, but China was very much still at the heart of the world’s seaborne trade.

Not A Lucky Year

In 2015 the Chinese economy saw both a slowdown in growth and a significant degree of turbulence. GDP growth slowed from 7.3% in 2014 to 6.9%. Steel consumption in China was easing and growth in Chinese iron ore imports slowed from 15% to 3%. Coal imports slumped by an even more dramatic 30%. Container trade was affected badly too. China is the dominant force on many of the world’s most important container trade lanes and is involved in over half of the key intra-Asia trade. Uncertainty in the Chinese economy in 2015 took a heavy toll on this and intra-Asian trade growth slumped to 3% from 6% in 2014. Going into 2016, there was plenty of apprehension about Chinese trade, and its impact on seaborne volumes overall.

Back In Action

However, things turned out to be a lot more positive in 2016 than most observers expected. China once again underpinned growth in bulk trade, with iron ore imports surprising on the upside, registering 7% growth on the back of producer price dynamics, and coal imports bouncing back by 20%. Crude oil imports into China also registered rapid growth of 16%, supported by greater demand for crude from China’s ‘teapot’ refiners.

In containers, growth in intra-Asian trade returned to a robust 6%, and the Chinese mainlane export trades fared better too, with Far East-Europe volumes back into positive growth territory and the Transpacific trade seeming to roar ahead. Overall, total Chinese seaborne imports  grew 7% in 2016, up from 1% in 2015, with Chinese imports accounting for around 20% of the global import total. Growth in Chinese exports remained steady at 2%.

Thank Goodness

Despite all this, seaborne trade expanded globally by just 2.7% in 2016. Thank goodness Chinese trade beat expectations. Of the 296mt added to world seaborne trade, 142mt was added by Chinese imports, equal to nearly 50% of the growth. Unfortunately, this was counterbalanced by trends elsewhere, with Europe remaining in the doldrums and developing economies under pressure from diminished commodity prices.

Rooster Booster?

So, 2015 illustrated that a maturing economy and economic turbulence could derail Chinese trade growth. But China is a big place, and 2016 shows it still has the ability to drive seaborne trade and that the world hasn’t yet found an alternative to ‘Factory Asia’. 2017 might see a focus on other parts of the world too, with hopes for the US economy, India to drive volumes, and developing economies to potentially benefit from improved commodity prices. But amidst all that, China will no doubt still have a big say in the fortunes of world seaborne trade. Have a nice day.


Last year saw a huge amount of change in the under pressure container shipping sector. In particular, the ongoing consolidation of the sector in one form or another grabbed the headlines. To put this into context, it’s interesting to see how the level of consolidation relates to other parts of shipping, how it has developed over time and how it might progress looking forward.

Solid In A Fragmented Field

It’s quite clear that the shipping industry is a fairly fragmented business. On the basis of start 2017 Clarksons Research data, 88,892 ships in the world fleet were spread across 24,267 owners. That works out at less than 4 vessels per owner. Although 145 owners with more than 50 ships accounted for almost 12,000 of the vessels (and 29% of the GT), it’s still not that consolidated. The liner shipping business however is one the more consolidated parts of shipping, as well as being home to some of the industry’s larger corporates. At the start of the year, the 5,154 containerships in the fleet were owned by 622 owner groups, about 8 ships per owner, but, perhaps more pertinently, were operated by 326 carriers, about 16 ships per operator. Each of the top 8 operators deployed more than 100 ships. But despite the less fragmented nature of the sector, recent market conditions have led to another round of consolidation in the box business.

All Change At The Big End

The three largest operators (by deployed capacity) at the start of 2017 were European: Maersk Line (647 vessels deployed) followed by MSC (453) and CMA-CGM (454). Of the remaining carriers in the top 20 all but three were based in Asia or the Middle East. However, what’s really interesting is that out of the 20 largest carriers back in late 2014, 4 are now gone. CSAV was acquired by Hapag-Lloyd, NOL/APL by CMA-CGM and the two major Chinese lines merged. And of course in late summer 2016, the financial collapse of Hanjin Shipping marked the sector’s biggest casualty in 30 years.

Long-Term Liner Trends

Against this backdrop, the graph shows  that the latest wave of box sector consolidation is actually part of a long-term trend. Back in 1996 the top 10 carriers deployed 45% of capacity and at the start of 2017 that figure stood at 70%. The coming year is set to see Hapag-Lloyd complete its merger with UASC, and Maersk Line’s planned acquisition of Hamburg-Sud is also awaiting necessary approvals. The second half of last year also saw the three major Japanese operators declare their intention to merge containership operations in a joint venture due to be established this year and start operations in 2018. The ‘scenario’ based on these changes would see the top 10’s share at 79%, nearly twice as much as 20 years ago.

Tracking The Top Table

So, the container sector is one of the more consolidated parts of shipping, and both the long-term trend and recent developments point towards ongoing consolidation. Many hope this will help the recalibration of market fundamentals and eventually support improved conditions. In the meantime, we’ll be publishing the ranking of the top containership operators every month, so watch this space.


Once upon a time, before the Chinese economic boom captured so much of the attention of the world of shipping, the US was a more important demand source for seaborne trade. Its share of global imports is lower today, but the US still plays a key part in world seaborne trade. What’s the detail behind this backdrop and how might the big changes in US politics impact the trends?

In A Chinese Theatre

Looking back, in 2006, North American container imports accounted for 18% of world box trade, whilst 22% of global seaborne crude oil trade went to the US. In 2016, these figures were 13% and 12% respectively. Some of this change is relative: rapid growth in China and developing Asia has clearly reduced the US share of global trade. Nevertheless, US imports have actually fallen in many of the major categories of seaborne trade. The volume, however, is still highly significant, so changes in US trade patterns are of major importance. The import trades shown on the graph alone account for around 6% of global seaborne trade.

A Mexican Stand-Off

Looking forward, one key aspect is the clear scenario in which US policy under the new administration becomes more protectionist. The US is withdrawing from the mooted Trans-Pacific Partnership and there is the possibility of punitive tariffs. The focus is manufacturing: attempts to ‘re-shore’ production which once upon a time would have taken place in the West. This could have a negative impact on certain import trades. The US accounted for 23% of all car imports by sea in 2016. Tariffs could harm this trade, as could a more aggressive approach against alleged dumping of cheap Asian steel products (the US imported more than 30mt of steel in 2016, 8% of the global seaborne trade). Meanwhile, efforts to promote US products could imperil the c.4% pa compound growth rate of eastbound transpacific container trade since 2010, although more jobs in manufacturing might also support increased US consumer activity.

Spaghetti Western

Another key aspect relates to energy. The US economy was once driven by cowboys; more recently shale oil has taken a key role. This has reduced energy imports, the US’s largest import category. Crude and products imports fell 45% in the last decade, whilst LNG imports dropped by 86%. Pro-energy industry policies of the new administration may have some further negative effects on hydrocarbon imports, though the set-up of US refineries means that some heavy crude imports are needed to ensure a balanced refinery slate. Conversely, oil industry-friendly policies could encourage exports, although additional LNG exports will partly depend on continued expansion of high-CAPEX liquefaction capacity.


Coming Up Next?

So, the backdrop is that seaborne trade is less dependent on the US than it once was, with some volumes that used to “Go West” increasingly heading to Asia. But, US seaborne trade does remain highly significant, and key elements appear potentially exposed to shifts in aspects of US policy. Though there may be pros as well as cons, looking ahead it’s clearly going to be important to watch closely for the impact of the big change in the US.


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.