Archives for category: Seaborne Trade

In the last few decades, the shipping industry has generally been able to rely on seaborne trade as a fairly steady performer. However, the slowdown in volume growth since the financial crisis has focussed the industry’s thoughts on potential barriers to healthy long-term trade growth, so all eyes are on signs of a potential return to faster expansion in volumes…

Steady As She Goes

From 1988 to 2008 growth in world seaborne trade averaged an estimated 4.2% pa, a fairly robust level underpinning long-term demand for ships. Sure, the markets at times felt the impact of oversupply, but sustained weakness of demand growth wasn’t generally the problem. However, since 2009 the growth rate has slowed, averaging 3.2%, and just 2.8% since 2013. This still equates to significant additional volumes (1.8% growth in 2015 added 194m tonnes) but it’s still enough to get market players worrying.

Could Be Worse?

But should it? Maybe it depends on how you put the trend into context. Cycles can be long; Martin Stopford has famously identified 12 dry cargo cycles of more than 10 years back to the 1740s! The current cycle certainly feels like it has dragged on; it’s now more than eight years since the onset of the financial crisis. However, there are interesting historical comparisons. Between 1929 (the year of the Wall Street Crash) and 1932, the value of global trade dropped by 62% and didn’t get back to the same level until the post-war years. Now that really would have been a time to worry!

Getting Serious?

Today perhaps some of the anxiety is amplified by the seemingly wide range of factors that look threatening to seaborne trade’s supportive historical record. Protectionist tendencies, whether they be from the Trump presidency or the UK’s Brexit vote, slowing growth in China, ‘peak trade’, robotics and 3D printing: no-one really knows how things will pan out but everyone’s watching closely for anything to allay at least some of the fears.

Basket Case

So that brings us back to our old friend the ‘monthly trade basket’ (see graph and description). Six months ago we reported that this appeared to be showing a pick-up and this time round things are still looking positive. The 3-month moving average shows a generally upward trend since autumn 2015 with an average of 4% in the second half of 2016, hinting that the bottom of the demand cycle may finally have been passed. The current projection for overall seaborne trade in 2017 is still less than 3% with plenty of scenarios possible, but both market sentiment and the momentum right now feel a little more positive than that.

Feeling Any Better Yet?

So, while it’s quite right to try to assess the range of factors which appear to be lining up against a return to more robust levels of trade growth, it’s also far from incorrect to look for signs of a turn in the trend. Cycles in shipping can be long and sometimes it can take a while to identify them. That may not be helpful to hear but you can have a nice day trying…

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The car carrier sector has been yet another part of the shipping industry to have faced challenging conditions this year. The focus has largely been on demand side difficulties, with growth in global seaborne car trade appearing to have gone into reverse gear. It has been a rather bumpy ride, and today’s car carrier market indicators still seem to be flashing up plenty of warning signals.

Going Slow

Growth in global seaborne car trade has struggled to return to the robust levels seen prior to the global economic downturn, when car trade was one of the faster growing parts of seaborne trade. Given the strong link between economic growth, consumer demand and car sales, the car carrier sector has been highly exposed to sluggish world economic performance in recent years, and global seaborne car trade has still not yet returned to its 2008 peak of 21.3m cars, with average growth of just 1.4% p.a. in 2013-15. This year has seen further pressure on seaborne volumes, with car trade projected to have dropped 4% to 19.8m cars.

The key driver of this fall has been considerably lower imports into developing economies following the commodity price downturn. Car sales in these countries have dropped sharply, and seaborne car imports into the Middle East, Africa and South America are set to drop by more than 10% this year. While imports into North America and Europe, still the two largest markets for imported vehicles, have grown moderately (by 2% and 4% respectively), this has not been enough to offset declines elsewhere. Other factors have also dented volumes, with expansion of car output closer to demand centres leading to a disconnect between global car sales, which have continued to expand, and seaborne trade volumes.

Warning Lights

Largely as a result of the downturn in demand, car carrier market conditions have deteriorated further this year. Most car carriers still operate under long-term agreements, but guideline charter rates have fallen back to subdued levels, with the one year rate for a 6,500 ceu PCTC falling to $16,000/day in recent weeks, down 30% from the start of the year. Vessel idling has risen, utilisation of active capacity is under pressure, and waiting time between fixtures has increased, whilst a trend towards shorter-term and spot fixtures has also been apparent.

Making The Turn

In response to these pressures, owners have stepped up supply-side action. Scrapping has increased, and is projected to reach 0.2m car equivalent capacity this year, over four times the 2015 level and the highest since 2009, with fleet capacity projected to have declined by 0.3% in full year 2016. Meanwhile, only two ships have been ordered this year, after 42 contracts were placed in 2015.

Route Planning

Yet the road ahead still seems far from clear for the car carrier sector, with demand seeming unlikely to shift up a few gears in the short-term. In our annual Car Carrier Trade & Transport report, we look at the latest trends in detail. This year’s report is now available on the Shipping Intelligence Network. Have a nice day.

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World seaborne trade, whilst still growing at a relatively steady pace, has seen a slightly less rapid rate of growth since 2015, compared to both the longer-term historical average, and the more recent 2011-14 period. Economists have spent a lot of time sifting through the factors that might be the drivers behind changes in trade growth. What might a look at more detailed seaborne trends add to the argument?

So, What’s The Argument?

One element of the debate has been whether the slowdown in the rate of trade growth, or at least the apparent reduction of the multiplier over global GDP growth (the so-called ‘trade beta’), has been the result of structural shifts in the emerging economies or if it is more closely related to the current sluggish performance of developed economies. Theorists suggest that the former would have a longer-term dampening effect on trade growth, whilst the latter would indicate something, that whilst still a highly negative impact, may improve with time.

Seaborne trade data could help to shine some light on the argument. The red line on the graph shows the 3mma of y-o-y growth in a basket of imports to developing nations (see notes). In 2014, imports rose 7.4%, but growth slowed to 0.5% in 2015 with China’s coal imports falling and iron ore imports growing more slowly. But China’s imports are far from stuck in the doldrums, and growth in the developing world imports featured here has bounced back to a robust 6.3% so far this year. On this basis, even with China’s economy maturing, it does not seem that trade into developing economies is settling into a period of uninterrupted weaker growth.

Gone West?

But what about the western world? Well, trends in North American and European consumer imports could be a useful indicator. Growth in container trade into Europe and North America averaged 4.5% in 2014, but slowed to 2.1% in 2015, with European imports falling. In 2016 so far, growth has picked up slightly (to 2.9%), but has still been fairly moderate. Maybe this supports the view that the more notable brake on trade growth is from soft developed world demand rather than sustained shifts in the developing world?

Wider Trends

But, in reality, there are other trends in seaborne trade to take into account. For instance, growth in the energy and construction industries in some developed nations has been subdued, and European coal and iron ore imports have fallen. Box trade into some developing nations has come under pressure from low commodity prices. Supply disruptions in exporting nations have also impacted trade, especially in crude oil and minor bulks.

So, global trade growth is not in its prime, and there is debate over the relative impact of developed and developing world trends and their implications for the longer-term. At a glance, seaborne trade data might seem to point towards a bigger issue with western demand than with developing world imports. This is still painful, but the cycle might turn. But seaborne trade highlights that there are a range of other factors at play too. As ever, it is not simple, but as usual seaborne trade trends tell us something about the big debates. Have a nice day.

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Shipping plays a major role in the world’s industries, facilitating the transport of large volumes of raw and processed materials. However, the maritime sector forms a much more important part of the global supply chain for some commodities and industries than others. Comparing world seaborne trade in a range of cargoes to global production helps to make this abundantly clear.

Still In The Limelight

Looking at a range of cargo types (see graph), less than 50% of global production of each was shipped by sea in 2015, with a significant share of output consumed domestically. However, seaborne transport still accounts for a sizeable proportion of many of these cargoes, and a wide range of factors influence the level of dependence on shipping of each.

Compelling Cues

One obvious driver is the location of production and consumption. Crude oil is the commodity most reliant on shipping, with some 46% of crude output last year exported by sea, with oil output concentrated in a relatively small number of countries. Similarly, around 41% of global iron ore production was shipped last year, with limited domestic demand in key producers Australia and Brazil. Absolute and relative regional productivity also has an influence. Just 15% of coal output was shipped in 2015, with half of the 6.5bt of coal produced globally last year output in China, nearly all of which was consumed domestically. Still, China was the second largest coal importer in 2015, with regional coal price arbitrages driving trade.

Another key factor is the availability and efficiency of other transport modes. Twice as much natural gas is exported via pipeline than in a liquefied state by sea, with just 9% of natural gas output in 2015 shipped as LNG. Meanwhile, the level of processing of materials also has an impact. Oil and steel products are less reliant on shipping than crude oil and iron ore, with refineries and steel mills often built to service domestic demand.

Raising The Drama

However, the growth of ‘refining hubs’ has raised the share of refinery throughput shipped by almost 10 percentage points since 2000. This kind of trend is an important driver of shipping demand. The share of output of the featured commodities shipped rose from an estimated 22% in 2000 to 26% in 2015, generating c.720mt of extra trade. This equates to an additional 1% p.a. of trade growth, boosting trade expansion to a CAGR of 3.7% in 2000-15. Trade in some cargoes is more sensitive to shifts in the share of output shipped than others, but across the featured cargoes, a further change of 0.5% in the share of output shipped could create another 130mt of trade, 2% of current seaborne volumes.

No Sign Of Stage Fright

So, while trade in even the cargo most reliant on shipping accounts for less than half of global output, the world economy today is still dependent on the seaborne transport of 11bt of all cargo types. Overall growth in production and the distance to consumers are also clearly important demand drivers for shipping, but for the world’s industries there’s no denying the main part that shipping still plays in the supply of raw materials. Have a nice day!

SIW1243 Graph of the Week

Marvel’s Iron Man, as depicted in the 2008 film, features industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark creating a powered suit, later perfecting its design and fighting evil. While it was a gold titanium alloy rather than iron which was used to make the futuristic armour, iron-based materials such as steel are used incredibly widely in the world’s industries today, with clear implications for shipping too.

Steel At The Heart

The strength of Iron Man’s suit was what helped turn Tony Stark into a superhero. The versatility and strength of steel has made it today’s most important construction material, with 1.6 billion tonnes of steel produced last year. Over recent decades, steel became one of shipping’s superheroes, with the unprecedented growth in Chinese steel production leading to a doubling of global steel output between 2000 and 2014, and helping to underpin the biggest shipping market boom in history. Growth in China’s raw material demand was explosive, and by 2014, global seaborne iron ore and coking coal trade totalled 1.6 billion tonnes, one seventh of total seaborne trade.

A Dangerous Weapon

But even superheroes have weaknesses, and reaching new heights was problematic for Iron Man, when the build-up of ice on his suit at high altitudes brought him back down to earth with a bump. A distinct chill in the air has recently surrounded the steel industry too. Slower economic growth in China, which uses half of the world’s steel, led Chinese steel consumption to drop 5% in 2015, undermining steel prices. Difficult economic conditions elsewhere also limited steel use, with consumption in Latin America and the Middle East declining 7% and 1% respectively last year, and overall, global steel output fell 3%. Weaker demand for steelmaking materials was a key driver of the fall in seaborne dry bulk trade in 2015, despite a 20% surge in Chinese steel exports. The steel market remains challenging with world consumption expected to fall again in 2016, and dry bulk trade still lacks the power to boost the bulker markets back into higher altitudes.

In Need Of A Shield

Of course, steel also impacts the supply side of the shipping industry. In Iron Man’s final showdown with the ‘Iron Monger’, in the end it all comes down to a good design and precise timing, concepts close to any shipowner’s heart. As the very fabric of the ships themselves, steel is a key cost for shipbuilders, but volatile prices have just as big an impact at the older end of the market. With continued exports of surplus steel from China maintaining pressure on steel prices, there is limited light at the end of the tunnel for owners scrapping ships in difficult market conditions for values around 50% lower than just two years ago.

Iron World

So there you have it. An Iron Man with a will of iron can save the world, whilst steel can bring the world’s shipowners fortune and challenges in equal measure. Steel may no longer be the superhero of seaborne trade growth, but it is still the glue that quite literally holds the shipping industry together and keeps 11 billion tonnes a year of cargo afloat. Now that’s a superhuman effort. Have a nice day!

SIW1239 Graph of the Week

In the world of seaborne trade, distance forms a crucial element in terms of determining how much demand for vessel capacity is created by trade volumes. One interesting measure of this is the estimated average haul of global seaborne trade. However, since the turn of the millennium, the historical trend isn’t quite as easy to follow as one might imagine.

Back Where We Started?

Across the period 2000-15, estimated global seaborne trade increased by 70% from 6.4bn tonnes to 10.8bn tonnes. Over the same 15-year period, the total in terms of tonne-miles jumped 71% from around 31,300 to 53,500 billion tonne-miles. As a result of these very similar growth rates, the ‘average haul’ of each tonne of seaborne trade didn’t move too much across the period as a whole, inching up from 4,926 to 4,944 miles. That’s on average an upward trend of just 1.3 miles per year! However, through this period there were clearly elements of seaborne trade which were being stretched, but others where the average haul was shrinking.

Down Then Up, And Again!

In 2000-02 the overall average haul declined. Crude trade volumes were falling, particularly on some of the longer-haul trades from the Middle East and West Africa. The average haul of dry bulk trade was declining with a firm rise in  Australia-Far East coal volumes. In containers, the fastest growth was being seen on some of the intra-regional trades. However, in 2003-06, average haul rose again, almost back to 2000 levels, with firm increases in the average haul of iron ore and grain trade on the back of growing exports from the Americas to the Far East.

Then, in 2007-09 things turned again and average haul headed downwards once more. This included a drop in the average haul of coal trade on the back of a rise in short-haul Asian imports. The average haul of container cargoes also fell in 2007-08, partly driven by a strong increase in short-haul intra-Asian trade. Finally, in 2010-15 overall average haul increased once again, with a firm rise in the average haul of crude oil, underpinned by Chinese import growth, leaving us almost exactly back where we started in 2000.

Tonnes And Tonnes

So, across the whole of seaborne trade, the statistics actually tell us that it’s the expansion in volumes which has accounted for the lion’s share of the additional seaborne tonne-miles in the last 15 years. But trade patterns in individual cargo types do change, and no-one should rule out the possible impact of new longer trades; there are still parts of the global trade matrix to fill out further.

No Surprises?

However, so far this century, despite short-term fluctuations, average haul has not really changed too much. Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised given the relatively fixed origin of many of the commodities moved by sea? The recent trend is upwards, but intra-regional trading blocs are becoming more cemented. Perhaps the best approach is to follow the advice of many a wise shipowner in challenging times: keep the cargo moving (and don’t worry about how far it’s going!).

SIW1234 Graph of the Week

With seaborne transportation accounting for the vast majority of the world’s international trade, the importance of the shipping industry to the mechanics of the world economy is generally fairly evident. But putting it into context in actual annual value terms, how does the magnitude of the shipping business compare to the size of some of the world’s economies?

Big Traders

There are a number of ways to attempt to put the annual impact of the shipping industry into the context of the wider world economy. One is to examine the value of seaborne trades. Seaborne iron ore trade totalled 1.3bn tonnes in 2015. At an annual average ore price of around $50/t, that equates to a value of $68bn. That’s about the size of the GDP of Kenya. However, that’s dwarfed by seaborne crude oil trade. At 37.4m bpd last year, at an average oil price of around $52/bbl, that’s an annual value of $717bn, almost equivalent to the GDP of Turkey (the world’s 18th largest economy). On the container side, taking port handling as an interesting metric, last year there were an estimated 664m TEU lifts at the world’s box ports. Average handling charges vary significantly, but if they worked out at $150/TEU that’s an economy of just under $100bn, almost the size of the GDP of Angola.

Of course the value of global seaborne trade must be huge. The WTO estimates the value of all global trade at $16.5 trillion, and almost 85% by volume moves by sea. Seaborne trade is probably a little skewed to relatively cheaper goods but even allowing for, say, 50% of the total value, that’s still over $8 trillion, heading towards the size of China’s economy!

Adding The Value

Another way to put shipping’s magnitude into context is to take a look at the value of the assets. Between 2007 and 2015 the average annual level of investment in newbuildings was $127bn. That’s bigger than the GDP of Hungary. Alternatively, taking the value of the fleet today, $904bn, and allowing for, say, another 15 years of trading (the average age by tonnage is around 10 years), would equate to a per annum value of $60bn, still bigger than the economy of Panama.

Call In The Revenue

But perhaps the clearest way to mirror GDP is to check the annual earnings of the vessels, just as GDP measures economic production. In 2016’s challenging market conditions, the ClarkSea Index has averaged $9,733/day (which would total aggregate earnings of $77bn in a full year across the c.22,000 vessels in the main volume sectors), but back in 2007 it averaged over $33,060/day (across over 15,600 vessels). Across a year that’s earnings of $189bn. Almost as big as the economy of shipping’s favourite investor nation, Greece!

A Big Whole

Shipping is just one of a wide range of economic activities on the planet. Sometimes its impact can be hard to put into context. But in terms of ‘economic magnitude’, elements of the shipping industry can be as big as the whole of one of the world’s larger economies, especially in a good year. Have a nice day!

SIW1231 Graph of the Week