Archives for category: European shipping

This week, the Bank of England put into place its action plan following the UK referendum on 23rd June, which indicated the British population’s preference to leave the European Union. While the political dust has yet to settle, shipping market observers have had time to form their views on the impact of ‘c’ on the industry. This week’s Analysis attempts to put the UK and the EU’s role in shipping in context.

Holding On

Once upon a time, of course, Britannia ‘ruled the waves’ and Great Britain, with its colossal maritime heritage (remember the British Empire?) was one of the world’s leading lights in ship ownership and shipbuilding. Today the story is a little different. UK owners account for just 2% of the global fleet in GT terms. The EU as a whole, however, remains a significant player, with 36% of world tonnage. While market share has shifted to the Asia-Pacific (39%), EU owners have held their own, led by the world’s largest owner nation in Greece, which has not been subject to its own ‘Grexit’ just yet.

Sailed East

Historically, Europeans were leading shipbuilders too, but in the modern era shipbuilding is dominated by Asia. In 2015, EU builders took 1.9m CGT of new orders (over 1,000 GT), 5% of the global total, and today account for 8% of the orderbook in CGT, whilst China, Korea and Japan together account for 84%. Europeans are now largely builders in the niche markets, dominating the cruise sector and maintaining a focus on small ships. Within the EU, the UK’s contribution is limited, with just two merchant vessels over 1,000 GT built since 2011.

Big Bloc

In terms of trade, the UK, given its status as the world’s 5th largest economy, accounts for a significant volume of imports and exports. However, in a global context these account for a relatively modest share. The UK’s imports account for an estimated 2% of global seaborne trade and its exports 1%. The EU, meanwhile, is much more significant, as befits its role as the world’s largest trading bloc, accounting for an estimated 16% of seaborne imports and 12% of exports.

Service Culture

One area where the UK and Europe maintain importance is as service providers. The UK is the world’s 14th largest flag and EU flags account for 18% of world tonnage. Lloyd’s Register in the UK is still a leading class society and along with DNV-GL and BV, the EU’s heavy-hitters, class 44% of the world fleet. Furthermore, London still remains one of the world’s pre-eminent maritime business hubs at the forefront of legal services, insurance and shipbroking too!

Wider, Still & Wider

However ‘Brexit’ plays out, it won’t go without notice. In fleet ownership or trade terms, the UK alone is not so significant (though the EU as a whole is). Perhaps the more important impact might be the wider fallout of uncertainty (or worse) surrounding one of the world’s largest economies. Meanwhile, the UK will be hoping that London can retain its role at the centre of commercial maritime affairs. Leaver or Remainer, have a nice day.

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Despite the many domestic and market challenges facing the Hellenic ship owning community, Greece has continued to strengthen its position as the largest ship owning nation in recent years. As the shipping community begins to gather for another Posidonia, Greek owners today control some 18% of the world fleet, with a 333m dwt fleet on the water and a further 40m dwt on order.

Greek owners continue to top the league table of ship owning nations with a 196m GT fleet and global market share of 16% (by GT), followed by Japan (13%), China (11%) and Germany (7%). In recent years this position has in fact been consolidated, with the Greek fleet growing by over 7% in 2015 – the most significant growth of all major owning nations. Aggregate growth since 2009 is even more significant; some 70% in tonnage terms. The big loser in market share in recent years has been Germany, while China’s aggressive growth in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis has slowed (the Chinese fleet doubled between 2009 and 2012 as solutions were found to distressed shipyard orders). Athens/Piraeus also features as the largest owning cluster globally, with Tokyo, Hamburg, Singapore and Hong Kong/Shenzhen making up the top five.

Punching Above Their Weight!

Greek owners remain the classic “cross traders”, developing their market leading position as the bulk shipping system evolved in the second-half of the twentieth century. Today, the Greek owners’ share of the world fleet at 16% compares to a seaborne trade share for Greece of less than 1%. By contrast, Chinese owners control 11% of the world fleet relative to the Chinese economy contributing to 16% of seaborne trade.

Sticking With Wet And Dry

Although a number of Greek owners have diversified into other shipping sectors, Greek owners have generally retained a focus on the “wet” and “dry” sectors. Today, the Greek fleet is largely made up of bulkcarriers (47% by GT) and tankers (35%) with this combined share hovering around 85% for most of the past twenty years. There has been some development of the Greek owned containership fleet (up to an 11% share) and gas carriers (up to a 4% share) but this is still generally limited. By contrast, Norwegian owners have trended towards more specialised vessels (e.g. offshore, car carriers) and the German fleet has remained liner focused.


Asset Players

Greek owners have also retained their role as shipping’s leading asset players and today operate a fleet with a value of some $91 billion (actually third in the rankings behind the US due to the value weighting of the cruise fleet). In 2015, Greek owners were the number one buyers (followed by China) and number one sellers (followed by Japan and Germany) in the sale and purchase market. Greeks have not been quite so dominant in the newbuild market recently and in 2015, Greek owners ($6.9bn of orders) trailed Japan ($13.1bn) and China ($10.7bn) in the investment rankings.

So despite facing many challenges, Greek owners continue to “punch above their weight” as the world’s leading shipowners for yet another year!

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New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup victory has further cemented the now long-held dominance of the All Blacks in international rugby. But the performance of the European nations in this year’s World Cup was disappointing, and over the long-term in shipping too, focus has gradually shifted from Europe to the other side of the world, with Asia the increasingly dominant player in many parts of the maritime industry.

Another Round Kicks Off

The rise of Asia and especially China as key drivers of seaborne trade growth has over recent decades turned maritime eyes increasingly eastwards. Across many aspects of the shipping industry, Asia has consistently been moving up the league tables, but having slipped behind in the game, how does Europe’s position look now?

A look at overall economic performance suggests not. EU GDP growth is certainly improving after falling to -0.4% in 2012 (see graph), partly owing to low oil prices and the weak euro. But this recovery is far from convincing – growth is expected to remain below 2% this year. As a team performance, the overall impression of regional growth is one of distinct patchiness, with a weak showing in Greece and in countries exposed to difficulties in Russia partly offsetting improved displays in others such as France, Italy and Spain.

Trade Struggles To Convert

The implication of these trends on seaborne trade is similarly mixed. After notably firmer volumes in 2014, European container imports have slowed in the year to date, with volumes on the Far East-Europe route down 5%. Imports even into countries showing improved economic growth this year have declined. Asia remains the focus of box trade expansion, with Europe’s share of global imports set to fall below 14% this year.

In the dry bulk sector, China’s leap up the leaderboard has squeezed the share of EU imports in global iron ore and coal trade to 12% last year. China’s dry bulk imports are now coming under pressure, but the EU has been unable to claw back lost ground. However, in the crude oil trade, Europe has stubbornly stayed in the game, keeping a share of around 24% in global crude trade since 2010. With EU imports set to grow 8% this year, 2015 could see the EU drive a greater share of crude trade growth than China for only the second time since 2005.

Tackling The Leader

Moreover, an apparent bounce-back is currently being seen in fleet ownership. Asia’s rapidly growing fleet had reduced the share of EU owners in the world fleet to 35.5% in 2013 (see inset graph). However, a 15% expansion in the Greek-owned fleet since start 2014 has helped the EU to begin to even out the scoreline, and the EU’s share of the world fleet is now rising for the first time since 2008.

But No Turnover

So, some elements of European shipping now seem to be driving forward. But economic difficulties linger on, and in reality improvements have generally been only limited in scope. For now, just as the All Blacks must be feeling secure at the top, in the world of shipping Team Asia still seems well ahead of the European pack.

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