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The Wall Street Crash in 1929 marked the onset of the Great Depression in the US. Times were tough, but jazz music, which had taken off in the 1920s, endured and evolved into the era of big bands and swing music now synonymous with the 1930s. The crude tanker sector is having a tricky time of its own at present, but over the last decade, crude trade patterns have seen their own evolutionary swing…

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

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It is over a year now since the opening of the new, expanded locks at the Panama Canal. The new locks have had a significant impact on a number of areas of shipping, including the gas carrier sector, but the main focus of the project in Panama was always the container trade, and the Asia-US East Coast route in particular. In that regard, how do things look a little over one year on?

Old For New

The new locks at the Panama Canal opened for transit on 26th June 2016, and the impact on the box shipping sector has been largely in line with expectations. The key area of impact was always going to be the Transpacific trade, and the Asia-US East Coast route in particular, the largest volume trade through the canal. Following the opening, the Asia-USEC route immediately saw swift upsizing of ‘Old Panamax’ containerships, being replaced by ‘Neo-Panamax’ units, with operators aiming to benefit from the economies of scale offered by running larger vessels through the canal. Regular deployment of ‘Old Panamaxes’ on the Asia-USEC route via the canal has fallen from 156 units in June 2016 to 30 today.

The total of ‘Old Panamaxes’ on the broader Transpacific trade now stands at 76, including some still operated via Suez to the USEC and from Asia to the USWC. However, there are around 35 ‘Old Panamaxes’ idle, and in total (based on a wide definition of 3,000+ TEU and ‘Old Panamax’ beam) 101 have been scrapped since start 2016. Having said all that, there are still many of these units deployed elsewhere, with, on the same definition, over 450 outside the Transpacific.

Bigging It Up

Looking upwards, the initial impact last summer was a speedy upsizing of tonnage to ‘Neo-Panamaxes’. This, as expected, basically jumped the class of sub-8,000 TEU ‘wide beam’ ships; just 22 of those serve Asia-USEC today. Instead it focussed immediately on the 8-11,999 TEU ships, and today there are 93 of those deployed on the Asia-USEC. And now even units as large as 12,000+ TEU are getting in on the act, with 9 deployed Asia-USEC, taking total deployment of new ‘wider beam’ units there to 124.

Switching Off?

This is all against a backdrop of robust growth on the Transpacific, with peak leg eastbound trade up by 8% y-o-y in Jan-May 2017. However, there hasn’t been any early sign of ‘cargo switching’ with flows proving ‘sticky’, even if USEC infrastructure constraints are diminishing (lifts at the 5 leading USEC ports as a share of lifts at the 5 major USWC ports is steady at c.80%). And interestingly the additional capacity on the Asia-USEC trade from the surge in upsizing has eroded the average Asia-USEC/Asia-USWC spot box freight rate ‘premium’ only gently, from 94% in 1H 2016 to 76% in 1H 2017.

More Time Required?

So, plenty of questions remain. Will the Panamaxes finally fully depart the trade? Will a ‘cargo switch’ eventually evolve? How will the freight market trend? One year may have passed but it appears more time is needed to assess in full the longer-term impact of the new Panama locks on box shipping. Have a nice day.

Graph of the week

Conventionally, the container shipping market is viewed as made up of two key elements: the freight market for moving boxes from A to B, and the charter market for hiring ships. Often these markets are happily moving in sync, but that’s not always the case. How does the relationship work and how closely have these markets moved in relation to each other, both in recent times and historically?

Happy Couple?

Let’s start with recent history. Improved fundamentals in 2016, when box trade grew by 3.8% but containership capacity expanded by just 1.2%, and into 2017, have had a twin impact on the container shipping markets. Firstly they helped the box freight market bottom out. The mainlane freight rate index (see graph) increased from 24 in Mar-16 to 73 in Jan-17, and this pattern has been mirrored across many trade lanes. Secondly, the backdrop eventually helped support a slightly improved charter market, with rates moving away from the bottom of the cycle in late Q1 2017. In theory, demand from freight market end users (shippers) filters down to the vessel charter market in the end, with additional volume driving charterers (liner companies) to access additional units (from owners).

Splits And Separations

But does the power of the fundamentals always drag the two markets along together? It is not always the case; they often move apart. Before the financial crisis, the freight market appeared somewhat less volatile than today, but that did not always see the markets in sync. Despite more than 20% cargo growth in 2005-06, and the freight market holding most of its ground, the charter rate index slumped by 47% from an all-time high of 172 in Apr-05 to 91 in Dec-06, as super-cycle peak rates proved unsustainable.

The post-downturn period has seen similar instances. The box shipping markets moved into an era of ‘micro’ management of supply (slow steaming, idling and cascading) and this has impacted both freight and charter markets. In both early 2011 and 1H 2015 charter rates rose as freight rates dropped like a stone. In 2011 the freight rate index dropped by 38% to 47 whilst the charter rate index rallied, as operators deployed additional capacity to the detriment of freight rates. But soon after the opposite occurred, and freight rates increased but charter rates dropped back to bottom of the cycle levels where they remained for the next three years.

Re-Coupling…

In the long-term, however, the two spheres do appear to be aligned. What simple inspection suggests, the numbers confirm. In only 33 of the months on the graph (21%) have the markets actually moved in opposite directions (excluding monthly movements of less than 1%).

Let’s Stick Together!

So, the two box markets do move independently at times but they often move in sync and when apart they tend to re-align (what econometricians might call an ‘error correction mechanism’). Perhaps this just confirms that ‘cargo is king’ and the supply side eventually adjusts. Whatever the case, box shipping’s famous couple can’t keep themselves apart for too long. Have a nice day.

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The vast majority of the world’s trade in goods is moved by sea, and it has long been recognised how shipping is a critical element of the global economy, providing the connection between producers and consumers all over the planet. However, what is less frequently mentioned is the tremendous ‘value for money’ with which it does so; this is clearly worth a closer look…

Bargain Of The Century?

One US dollar doesn’t get you much in today’s world. On the basis of latest prices it would buy 0.025 grams of gold or 2% of a barrel of crude oil. Based on Walmart’s latest online pricing it would buy about half a litre of milk. That’s not a lot whichever way you look at it, in a world economy that is 75 trillion dollars large. But in shipping one dollar still gets you something very substantial. One way of looking at this is to take the movement of cargo in tonne-mile terms and divide it by the estimated value of the fleet. Here, to try to do this in like-for-like terms, the calculation includes crude and oil products, dry bulk, container and gas trade, and the ships that primarily carry those cargoes. On this basis, one dollar of ‘world fleet value’ at the start of May 2017 would have bought 110 tonne-miles in a year, based on 2017 trade projections. What an amazing bargain! One tonne of cargo moved more than 100 miles, per year, all for one little greenback!

What’s In A Number?

What drives this number? Well the essence of the value of course lies in the huge economies of scale generated by moving cargo by sea in vast quantities at one time over significant distances. The average haul of one tonne in the scope of the cargoes listed above is estimated at 5,016 miles and the average ship size at 58,706 dwt. Of course the amount of tonne-miles per dollar can vary over time, depending on changes in asset market conditions, the underlying cost and complexity of building ships and vessel productivity, speed and utilisation (rates of fleet and trade growth aren’t perfectly aligned most of the time). Across sectors the statistics can vary significantly too.

Buy In Bulk

One dollar of bulkcarrier and oil tanker tonnage accounts for 154 and 101 tonne-miles of trade per year respectively. For more complex, expensive ships the figure is lower: 20 for gas carriers. For boxships, despite their higher speed, the figure stands at 114. Vessel size (economies of scale in building) and cargo density (this analysis is in tonnes) play a role too in these relative statistics (which also don’t always capture the full range of cargo carried by each ship type).

Value For All Time

Nevertheless, whatever the precise numbers and changes over time, 110 tonne miles of trade each year for one dollar of asset expenditure just sounds like mighty good value at a time when a dollar doesn’t go very far. This underpins shipping’s ability to carry an estimated 84% of the world’s trade in tonnes and act as the glue holding the globalised economy together. Shipping’s famous volatility retains the ability to make and lose fortunes for asset players but the underlying economic contribution of each dollar invested may just be one of the greatest bargains of all time. Have a nice day.

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After a long cycle of build-up in capacity in the 2000s, shipyards hit a new peak in global output in 2010. Since then, the impact of reduced vessel ordering on shipbuilders worldwide has been a key issue for the industry, and it’s clear that global output has dropped significantly and shipyard capacity has diminished. But how far can those shipyards still active look ahead today?

Looking Forward

‘Forward cover’ is one basic indicator of the volume of work that shipyards have on order, calculated by dividing the total orderbook by the last year’s output (in CGT). Unsurprisingly, after a period of extremely low ordering in 2016, forward cover has shortened. Currently, global forward cover stands at 2.3 years having declined throughout 2016, as the orderbook shrank by 25% in CGT terms. Global forward cover was as low as 2.1 years at the start of 2013 (but delivery volumes in 2012 were 37% higher than in 2016) and peaked at 5.6 years in 2008.

Looking around the shipbuilding world, yards in Korea currently have the lowest level of cover at 1.5 years. European yards, meanwhile, bucked the trend in 2016, increasing their forward cover on the back of cruise ship orders (and falling production volumes) to 4.2 years.

Less To Go Round

Fewer fresh orders have also led to a greater number of yards ending the year without receiving a single contract. During 2005-08, the number of yards to take at least one order was on average equivalent to 87% of the number of yards active (with at least one unit on order) at the start of the year. In 2009-15, with ordering generally lower, the figure averaged 49%. In 2016 this fell further to 28%, with just 133 yards receiving an order. In China, 48 yards (26 of which were state-backed) won an order in 2016 compared to 284 yards in 2007. In Japan, 22 yards took an order in 2016 compared to 60 as recently as 2015. In Korea, 11 shipyards took an order last year.

Out Of Work?

Whilst many yards have tried to cope with the lower demand environment by slowing production or working outside their traditional product range, the statistics clearly point to huge challenges. In 2016, 117 yards delivered the final unit on their orderbook. The peak production level of these yards, many of them smaller builders, totals around 4m CGT. However, 163 yards are scheduled to deliver their current orderbook by the end of 2017 (although in reality slippage may mean some of the work runs on past the end of the year). Statistically, this represents 43% of the number of yards active at the start of the year. Although these yards have been reining back capacity and outputting less in recent years, the peak production level of this set of yards totals as much as 12m CGT. Offshore builders of course face huge pressures too, with about half of those active scheduled to deliver their final unit on order this year.

Global shipyard output and capacity have fallen significantly since the peak years. However, many remaining yards still don’t need to look too far ahead to see the end of their current workload. The shipbuilding industry will be hoping to see a return to a more active newbuilding market sooner rather than later.

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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.

Strong demolition has been a prominent feature of the shipping industry this year, as challenging market conditions continue to drive a significant supply-side response in a number of sectors. Across the total shipping fleet, demolition could reach one of the highest levels on record in full year 2016, but which markets in particular have taken the biggest hits?

Revving Up

2016 has been an extremely difficult year for the shipping markets, with conditions in most sectors under pressure. Reflecting this, demolition has remained at elevated levels, and in January to November, 841 vessels of 41.3m dwt were scrapped. Demolition so far this year has already exceeded last year’s total of 38.9m dwt, and whilst scrapping volumes have picked up in most sectors, some markets have played a more important role in this year’s tally than others.

Bulker Beat

Amidst continued depressed earnings, bulkcarriers have accounted for the lion’s share of tonnage scrapped this year. Bulker scrapping set a new record in 1H 2016, and while demolition has slowed in recent months, 385 bulkers of 27.7m dwt have been scrapped in the year to date. Bulker demolition has been historically firm since 2011, but the pace of scrapping in most bulker sectors this year has still exceeded the 2011-15 average, with Capesize and Panamax recycling this year around 1.4 times this level.

Boxship Bumps

Meanwhile, containership demolition has also made headlines this year, with increasingly young vessels being recycled. In dwt terms, boxship scrapping has totalled 7.9m dwt so far in 2016, but recycling volumes are already over triple that of full year 2015, with scrapping on track to reach a record 0.7m TEU this year. The pace of demolition of ‘old Panamaxes’ has been running at more than twice the five year average, whilst scrapping has accelerated firmly in the 3,000+ ‘wide beam’ sectors, with 6,000+ TEU boxships also scrapped for the first time.

Big Hits On The Bodywork?

By contrast, despite the softening in crude and product tanker market conditions this year, tanker scrapping has remained relatively subdued, at less than half of the five year average. However, while gas carrier scrapping remains limited in numerical terms, with just 18 ships recycled so far this year, LPG carrier demolition is on track to reach around double the five year average after earnings fell swiftly to bottom of the cycle levels. Meanwhile, car carrier scrapping has soared to 27 units of 0.14m ceu. This is already the second highest level on record, and on an annualised basis is four times above the 2011-15 average.

So, while total demolition this year is still falling short of 2012’s record 58.4m dwt, 2016 looks set to see yet another year of very firm recycling, eight years after the onset of the downturn. In some sectors, this strong scrapping is providing a helpful brake on fleet expansion. Furthermore, with bruising market conditions having clearly taken their toll, many owners are likely to be looking to the demolition market for a little while yet.

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