Archives for category: Shipping Market

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

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…


After another year of extremely difficult market conditions, many would forgive liner sector players for an air of resignation. However, despite a challenging freight market, charter rates remaining firmly in the doldrums and a major corporate casualty, looking back 2016 may well be seen as the year in which the container shipping sector really started to tackle its problems head on.SIW1255

Sustained Struggles

The container shipping sector has spent much of the post-financial crisis era under severe pressure and, as many expected, 2016 proved no real exception. Box freight rates in general remained weak, and the SCFI Composite Index averaged 18% lower in 2016 than in 2015. However, by late in the year it did appear that spot freight rates might be bottoming out on some trade lanes.

Against this backdrop, charter market vessel earnings remained extremely challenged, at bottom of the cycle levels. The one year rate for a 2750 TEU ship averaged $6,000/day in 2016, 37% lower than in 2015. ‘Old Panamax’ types fared even worse, averaging $4,979/day in 2016, 58% down on 2015, with the opening of the new locks at the Panama Canal impacting vessel deployment patterns.

Fundamental Traction?

Nevertheless, sector fundamentals did appear a little more positive in 2016. Demand conditions improved, with global volumes expanding by an estimated 3% in the full year to 181m TEU. Volumes on the key Far East-Europe trade returned to positive growth and the rate of expansion on intra-Asian trades accelerated back to more robust levels. However North-South volumes and trade into the Middle East remained under severe pressure from the impact of diminished commodity prices, though volumes into the Indian Sub-Continent grew strongly.

Meanwhile, containership capacity growth slowed significantly in 2016, reaching just 1.2% in the full year. Deliveries fell dramatically to 0.9m TEU (from 1.7m in 2015) and demolition accelerated rapidly to a new record of 0.7m TEU.

Still A Surplus

However, given the level of surplus built up in the post-Lehman years, and in particular the impact of the delivery of substantial capacity, much of it in the form of new ‘megaships’, the improved supply-demand balance seen last year was not enough to generate any significant improvement in market conditions. At the end of 2016, around 7% of total fleet capacity stood idle. The financial collapse of major Korean operator Hanjin was a further illustration of the acute distress facing both operators and owners.

Getting To Grips?

So, further recalibration still appears to be necessary to generate better markets. However, 2016 might also be seen as the year in which the sector finally started to lay real foundations for a better future. Demolition hit a new record, and financial distress and regulatory requirements are expected to drive further recycling. The ordering of newbuild capacity dropped to just 0.2m TEU in 2016, a dramatic halt.

Meanwhile, further significant steps in the consolidation of the sector were taken in the form of merger and acquisition activity involving major operators; the top 10 now deploy 70% of all boxship capacity, a figure set to rise to around 80%. Building blocks only these factors may be, but many will hope that at last container shipping is starting to build towards something more positive than the gloomy conditions that perpetuated in 2016.

With the ClarkSea Index around $9,000/day, and many if not most of the major shipping markets under severe pressure, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the shipping markets are a tough place right now, with limited pickings to share between owners. However, everything’s relative, and from one angle the size of the ‘pie’ might just be bigger than it seems…

How Big’s The Pie?

Last week the ClarkSea Index stood at $8,743/day, and during 2016 as a whole the index averaged $9,441/day, taking into account earnings in the tanker, bulkcarrier, gas carrier and containership sectors, across a selection of over 21,000 units at the start of the year. Estimating the aggregate annual earnings for the basket of vessels in question, that works out at $72.5 billion in full year 2016. To put this in context against the boom years of the 2000s, in 2007 the ClarkSea Index averaged $33,061/day across a basket of over 15,000 ships, generating aggregate earnings of $189.1bn, over two and half times more than in 2016.

In terms of average earnings levels, 2016 actually compares more equally to 1992, 25 years ago, when the ClarkSea Index averaged $9,786/day, or 1999 when it averaged $9,855/day. But of course the fleet has grown since those days and, in dwt terms, the basket of ships in the index in 2016 was 159% bigger than in 1999 and 219% larger than in 1992. Aggregate earnings in 1999 reached $43.6bn and in 1992 were $36.1bn. 2016’s total was 66% and 101% larger respectively. In today’s challenging markets it is food for thought that the earnings stream is still that much bigger than at similar earnings levels in the past.

A Bigger Bake

And furthermore, there’s a wider world of shipping outside the scope of the ClarkSea Index basket which is (hopefully) generating income too. If, for instance, the 2016 earnings of the ClarkSea Index basket were extrapolated on a $/dwt basis (it stood at $48/dwt) across the whole of the 1.7bn dwt world cargo fleet, the overall earnings of that wider fleet would have come to $85bn. That’s roughly the size of the economy of Ukraine!

Rising Cost Of Ingredients

However, having said all this, it’s not just about earnings. Costs need to be taken into account too. Using a weighted index of OPEX across the ClarkSea Index basket and subtracting it from aggregate earnings would imply an overall net cash flow in of $23.4bn in 2016 (this compares to around $150bn in 2007 and 2008). Helpfully, in recent decades fleet expansion has outweighed growth in OPEX so the net cash flow pie has grown compared to previous downturns too.

A Slice Of The Action

So, whilst market conditions are as challenging as any seen in the last few decades, the revenue ‘pie’, though hardly tasty yet, is at least significantly larger than it was last time that earnings were at a similar level. For the industry that means a larger pie to be shared around. In today’s difficult markets that could be helpful, but of course you have to get a big enough slice. Have a nice day.


In the first film in the Bridget Jones series, 32 year old single Bridget soon ends up in the middle of a love triangle with the sensible Mark Darcy and charming Daniel Cleaver. The second sequel, released last year, sees Bridget finding herself unexpectedly expecting a baby. But Bridget Jones hasn’t been the only one battling tricky relationships and a rising headcount, as tanker owners will attest.

Happy Couple

The tanker market has certainly had some tumultuous times of late. Crude tanker earnings picked up in 2014, averaging nearly $27,000/day, and surged to an annual average of around $50,000/day in 2015. Things started to cool off into 2016, but in the full year average earnings were still fairly healthy at just under $30,000/day. They say two’s company; and these positive conditions did seem to have been brought about by the fortuitous lining up of two key factors.

Firstly, limited tanker ordering in the years after the global economic recession led to a spell of very muted growth in the tanker fleet. By the start of 2015, tanker fleet capacity was just 3% larger than at the start of 2013 (in the same period, the bulkcarrier fleet grew 10%). Secondly, the oil price crash in mid-2014 kick-started a period of unusually firm growth in seaborne oil trade. The ensuing low oil price environment supported healthy refinery margins and a build-up in oil inventories in key regions, whilst price pressures also dampened US oil production and boosted US crude imports. Overall, seaborne crude oil trade grew on average by a healthy 3.5% p.a. in 2015-16.

Delivery Record

However, a resurgence in contracting (1,278 tankers were ordered in 2013-15, up from 577 in 2010-12) has seen tanker fleet growth accelerate, to around 6% in 2016. The tanker supply surge has continued, with deliveries in January 2017 reaching an all-time monthly record of 6.7m dwt. With these new additions, tanker fleet capacity has already grown by 1.1% since the start of 2017, a similar rate of growth to that seen in full year 2014, with more tonnage delivered last month than in some whole years in the 1980s. In full year 2017, tanker fleet growth looks set to reach around 5%.

Troubling Trio

Another tricky element could also now be materialising on the demand side. Compliance by major oil exporters with agreed production cuts seems to have been high so far. The wider impact of these cuts on the tanker market is certainly far from clear, but there is the potential for improved oil price levels to support US oil output and undermine crude imports. At the same time, oil inventory drawdowns in some regions remain a key risk

Finding Mr Right

So, they say three’s a crowd, and the tanker market could be facing up to some real tests if the three factors of fast supply growth, changes in oil production and inventory drawdowns come together. Bridget Jones would be the first to tell you that finding the right way forward when the future’s uncertain and numbers are multiplying is tricky at the best of times, but rarely have shipowners not been up for a challenge. 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.