Archives for category: shipping intelligence weekly

Global oil prices were buoyed in Q4 2016 by OPEC’s decision to cut production. Perhaps more surprising still was the extent of compliance with quotas, for an organisation with a past track record of over-production. At their recent meeting, OPEC overcame some members’ objections and agreed to extend the cuts until March 2018. How will this affect the oil price and how does it impact the shipping industry?

Cutting To The Quick

Twenty years ago, OPEC had substantial control over the supply side of the oil market. Today, the rise of shale oil has created doubts that OPEC retains the power to influence the market in a lasting way. This question is still to be resolved, though it is true that the cuts have allowed shale producers a new lease of life in terms of spending (up c.50% in 2017) and drilling (the US land rig count is up 120% y-o-y). However, OPEC are making the most concerted attempt for more than a decade to control supply. As the Graph of the Month shows, past quota compliance has been poor, and indeed for a decade this was effectively acknowledged by the lack of a formal quota.

Cutting Down

The difference recently is that OPEC has actually succeeded in cutting to below the level of the quota, despite allowing some members (such as Iran) to avoid formal cuts. The collective reduction has partly been down to outages (notably in Nigeria and Venezuela). However, it also reflects Saudi Arabia shouldering a lion’s share of cuts (c.0.75m bpd or 55%).

Expectations of an extension to cuts boosted oil prices in the run up to the announcement (though after the meeting, prices fell as investors took profits). Higher prices have a range of ramifications for shipping. One consequence is higher fuel prices, increasing shipowners’ costs unless they can pass this on. Previous periods of high fuel costs pushed owners to slow steam. This mitigated the problem, to some extent, but few ships sped up when prices came down. So currently this would be a difficult trick to repeat.

Cut And Run?

The cuts could also affect tanker demand, either via lower crude and product exports (27% of seaborne trade), or lesser import demand if high prices moderate demand growth. So far, price increases have been moderate, and it seems as if the Saudis in particular have been doing their best to curtail domestic oil usage to protect long-haul export customers (more than 18m bpd, of 47%, of crude trade is exported from the Middle East Gulf).

Perhaps most obviously, the OPEC cuts have brought a modicum of more bullish sentiment to oil companies’ E&P investment decisions. This has helped offshore markets a little, notably through a small upturn in tendering and fixing activity for drilling rigs (Clarkson Research’s average rig rate index is up 2% since end-2016). However, there has been little to no effect on rates in related markets such as OSVs, and most would acknowledge the extreme fragility of any improvement.

So, the widely-trailed extension to OPEC production cuts boosted oil prices during May, although it remains to be seen if shale production quickly offsets this. Oil price dynamics have a mixture of positive and negative effects for shipping, but certainly remain crucial given the key role of oil both for shipping and for the wider economy. Have a nice day!


“Look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves” goes the saying, a mantra the shipping industry has a long taken to heart. In this week’s Analysis, we review trends in ship operating expenses (OPEX) that have taken the total cost base of the shipping industry through the $100 billion barrier for the very first time.

Watching The Pennies!

Of all global industries, perhaps few have had the extreme cost focus of shipping over the past 30 years. During the 1980s recession, any operating “fat” was largely removed with the growth of open registries and a drive to outsourcing. This helped shipping, alongside its near “perfect” competitive economic model, deliver exceptionally cheap and secure freight, in turn a key facilitator of globalisation.

Nice And Lean…

OPEX response since the financial crisis has been relatively modest. Our average OPEX index (using the ClarkSea “fleet” mix and information from Moore Stephens) shows just a 1% decrease in OPEX since the financial crisis to $6,451/day in 2016. By comparison, the ClarkSea Index dropped 71%, from $32,660/day in 2008 to $9,441/day in 2016 (a record low). In part, this modest, albeit painfully achieved, drop reflects upward pressures from an expanding fleet and items such as crew and ever- increasing regulation. However it also reflects the already lean nature of OPEX.

$100 Billion And Counting…

Our estimate for aggregate global OPEX for the world’s cargo fleet has now breached $100 billion for the first time, up from $98 billion last year and $83 billion in 2008. The largest constituent remains crew wages ($43 billion covering 1.4 million crew across the fleet). By comparison aggregate ship earnings for our cargo fleet fell from an eye watering $291 billion in 2008 to $123 billion in 2016!

Cutting The Fat…

One sector that has seen dramatic cost reduction has been offshore. Estimates vary, but 30% seems a reasonable rule of thumb for reductions in OPEX since 2014. While painful, this has been part of a process of making offshore more competitive against other energy sources (offshore contributes 28% of oil production, 31% of gas, and 16% of all energy) and one of the factors behind the increase in sanctioning of offshore projects.

Getting Smarter…

So shipping is one of the leanest industries around but is always under pressure to do more! It seems clear that squeezing cost in the traditional sense, offshore aside, will be pretty challenging — UK media reported on the docking of the 20,150 teu MOL Triumph, highlighting it was manned by only 20 crew! Getting smarter, collecting and using “big data” and technology and automation are all gaining traction. The industry’s fuel bill (accounted for outside of OPEX) is clearly a big target.

This will all require new technology, skills and perhaps new accounting approaches. Plenty of food for thought but it seems like just going on another severe diet won’t work this time. Have a nice day!


In recent years, in generally difficult market conditions, it has been no surprise that many sectors have seen a significant removal of surplus tonnage. This has been particularly notable in the bulkcarrier and containership sectors, and in the case of the Capesizes and the ‘Old Panamax’ boxships, it has been a bit like the famous race between the tortoise and the hare but with even more changes in leadership…

At The Start

Back in 2012, Capesize demolition was on the up with the market having softened substantially in 2011 on the back of elevated levels of deliveries. Meanwhile, ‘Old Panamax’ containership demolition (let’s simply call them Panamaxes here) was also on the rise with earnings under pressure. Across full year 2012, 4.7% of the start year Capesize fleet was sold for scrap (11.7m dwt) and 2.6% of the Panamax boxship fleet (0.10m TEU). In both cases this was working from the base of a fairly young fleet, with an average age at start 2012 of 8.2 years for the Capes and 8.9 years for the Panamax boxships.

The cumulative volume, as a share of start 2012 capacity, of Capesize demolition remained ahead of Panamax boxship scrapping until Sep-13, by which time 7.3% of the start 2012 Panamax boxship fleet had been demolished compared to 7.2% of the Capesize fleet. In 2013 the Cape market improved with increased iron ore trade growth whilst the boxship charter market remained in the doldrums. In 2013, Cape scrapping equated to 3.2% of the start 2012 fleet (7.9m dwt); the figure for Panamax boxships was 6.0% (0.24m TEU). The fast starter had been caught by the slow burner.

Hare Today…

But by 2015, Cape scrapping was surging once more, regaining the lead from the Panamax boxships. By May-15 the cumulative share of the start 2012 fleet scrapped in the Capesize sector was 13.7% compared to 13.4% for the Panamax boxships. Iron ore trade growth slowed dramatically in 2015, whilst the Panamaxes appeared to be enjoying a resurgence with improved earnings in the first half of the year ensuing from fresh intra-regional trading opportunities.

…Gone Tomorrow

But the result of the race was still not yet clear. Today the Panamaxes are back in front again, thanks to record levels of boxship scrapping in 2016, including 71 Panamaxes (0.30m TEU) on the back of falling earnings, ongoing financial distress and the threat of obsolescence from the new locks in Panama. Despite a huge run of Capesize scrapping in Q1 2016 (7.5m dwt), the cumulative figure today for Capes stands at 22.3% of start 2012 capacity, compared to 25.4% for Panamax boxships, remarkably similar levels.

Where’s The Line?

So, today the old Panamax boxships are back in the lead, but who knows how the great race will end? Capesize recycling has slowed with improved markets, but Panamax boxships have seen some upside too, even if the future looks very uncertain. Hopefully they’ll both get there in the end but no-one really knows where the finish actually is. That’s one thing even the tortoise and the hare didn’t have to contend with. Have a nice day.


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

The shipping industry has long provided investors with opportunities for asset play, reflecting the volatility in prices and relative shifts in the value of certain classes or ages of ships. Recent months have been no exception, with changes in tempo clearly evident in some shipping sectors. What can conducting a quick survey of the classic asset market indicators tell us today?

Classical Repertoire

One classic indicator (see SIW 1175) of the state of the asset market in any particular sector is the ratio of the 5 year old price to the newbuild price of a similar ship. On the basis of a 25 year lifespan, a 5 year old vessel depreciating evenly would be worth around 80% of the newbuild price. The level of this ratio can demonstrate how keen investors are to purchase assets on the water today.

Change Of Tempo

The graph shows the 5 year old to newbuild price ratio for a Capesize and a VLCC. The ratio is clearly volatile, and recent trends in the Capesize sector are illustrative of how conditions in shipping asset markets can change rapidly. Since the start of 2009, the Capesize ratio has fluctuated within a wide range from 50% (reached in early 2009 and again in early 2016) to 110% (although this was still well below the peak of 160% in mid-2008 at the height of the boom). The ratio has also moved significantly even in the last few weeks, as Capesize secondhand prices have risen robustly. At the end of February 2017, the 5 year old Capesize price stood at $25m, 60% of the newbuild price. By the end of March, the 5 year old price had risen to $33.5m, 80% of the newbuild price and the highest ratio since autumn 2014, indicating the improved appetite for tonnage in the bulker market.

New World Or Old Classics?

While these trends in asset price ratios can indicate the market’s view on the relative value of newbuild and secondhand tonnage, changes in the ratio can sometimes subsequently impact on decision making by investors. When the ratio falls to low levels (the Capesize ratio remained below 70% from Jan-15 to Feb-17), secondhand purchases can often appear more attractive than newbuildings, whilst higher ratios can sometimes eventually stimulate newbuild interest.

Orchestrating Opportunities

Even more starkly, the volatility in price ratios reinforces the opportunities for asset play in the shipping markets. To take an example, a 5 year old Capesize vessel one year ago could have been picked up for about $23.75m. Trading the vessel on a 1-year timecharter (around $8,000/day at the time) and selling the unit as a 6 year old, for say $31.5m, would have generated a return of almost $8m after OPEX (34% of the original outlay).

Still Making Overtures?

So, even after a prolonged downturn, the classic indicators show a shipping market still volatile and open for asset play. Recent shifts, especially in the bulker sector, offer an excellent example. Whilst the outcome is always highly difficult to predict, there still appear to be opportunities for those willing to take a chance, hoping to hit the right note. Have a nice day!

SIW1267:Graph of the Week

The fundamental lying beneath the shipping industry is cargo and its journey, and in many cases the cargoes are the world’s key commodities. In 2014, prices across a range of commodities took a sharp dive, but over the last year or so they’ve started to improve again. So, what do the trends in the prices of the commodities underlying the shipping markets tell us about the shape of things today?

Oiling The Wheels?

Most followers of commodities will be aware of the oil price downturn, with the price of Brent crude falling from an average of $112/bbl in June 2014 to reach a low of $32/bbl in February 2016. However, it has since improved, to an average of $52/bbl in March 2017, with the key driver the implementation of oil output cuts by major producers. Despite this recent price rise, in this case the underlying commodity price trend does not appear to be supportive for shipping, with seaborne crude oil trade growth subsequently slowing, having risen by an average of 3.9% p.a. in 2015-16, and tanker markets easing back. On the other hand, rising oil prices might start to help support an improved offshore project sanctioning environment, though the stimulation of increased shale production in the US poses a risk to its seaborne imports.

Bulk Bounce

On the dry bulk side, the iron ore price fell from $155/t in February 2013 to reach a low of $40/t in December 2015 but has since recovered robustly to an average of $87/t in March 2017. Meanwhile, the coal price fell from $123/t in September 2011 to a low of $50/t in January 2016 but has since improved firmly to an average of $81/t in March 2017. In China government policies and domestic output cuts drove shipments of ore (up 7%) and coal (up 20%) in 2016, helping to support international prices. Demand growth has continued in the same vein in 2017, with ore and coal imports up 13% and 48% y-o-y respectively in the first two months. Average Capesize spot earnings recently hit $20,000/day, and some industry players have appeared cautiously optimistic about the possibility of better markets.

Spending Power?

What does all this mean for the third main volume sector, container shipping? Well, in this case, the previous downward pressure on commodity prices had been felt in the form of pressure on imports into commodity exporting developing economies faced with reduced income and spending power. This had a clear negative impact on volumes into Latin America, Africa and eventually even the Middle East; overall north-south volume growth fell below 1% in 2016. Although it’s early days yet, the recovery in commodity prices should suggest a gradual improvement even if the benefits lag commodity pricing, and the positive impact might not be evenly paced across the regions.

From The Bottom Up

So, it appears that commodity prices have now departed the bottom of the cycle. Alongside the impression of a generally firmer background, inspection of the underlying drivers suggests a mixture of messages for shipping, less beneficial in some instances, but in many ways more positive for volumes. As ever, it’s interesting to take a look at what lies beneath…

SIW1267:Graph of the Week