Archives for posts with tag: bulkers

By the late 1800s, the shipping industry had been transformed by the introduction of steam power and iron ships. Coal and grain were two of the most important cargoes, alongside timber, sugar, cotton and tea. While technology, the sheer scale of the business, and the global cargo mix, have of course all changed since then, dry bulk cargoes have retained a position at the heart of global seaborne trade.

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

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“Going where the work is” has been a familiar mantra for many generations across the world, and the shipping industry is no different. Indeed, much of the world’s oil tanker and bulker fleet will be familiar with the sentiments of Simon and Garfunkel, wishing they were “homeward bound” but rarely getting “home where the music’s playing” as “every stop is neatly planned”!

Far And Wide…

Our analysis this week looks at the top shipowning nations and the trading patterns of their fleets, using data from our World Fleet Register and our vessel tracking system, Clarksons SeaNet. This analysis is based on the port calls and movements of the oil tanker and bulkcarrier fleet only (the “bulk fleet”); we will be taking a closer look at containership deployment in a future edition of Shipping Intelligence Weekly.

“Cross-Traders”…

Of the top ten owning nations, Greece, Norway, Italy and Denmark come out as the classic “cross-traders”. Ships owned by Europeans call at their “domestic” ports less than 15% of the time and rely heavily on trade routes involving Asia-Pacific countries. For nations like Greece (9% domestic port calls) this is a long-standing feature, achieving its number one shipowning status despite a global GDP ranking of 50 and a bulk seaborne trade rank of 47. The countries which Greek owned ships call at most often are China (14% by tonnage, 11% by number) and then the US (12%). Indeed for European owners generally, maintaining their share of global tonnage at an impressive 42% for the bulk fleet (45% for all ships) has come despite Atlantic trade stagnating at 3bn tonnes in the past fifteen years, while Pacific trade has more than doubled (to 8bn tonnes), a dramatic relative increase in trading outside Europe.

Sticking Close To Home…

At the other extreme, the Chinese and Japanese fleets come out with over 50% of calls at domestic ports, while the South Korean fleet sits at 38% (note the analysis includes some bunkering calls, notably at Singapore, but also elsewhere). Although China continues to be well serviced by international owners, its position as the world’s largest importer (25% of “bulk” cargo), second largest economy and number one seaborne trading nation means that 74% of Chinese fleet port calls are at domestic ports. In fact, 46% of total bulk Chinese port calls by tonnage (55% in numbers) are by domestic owned vessels, 24% by European owned ships and 24% by other Asian owned units. The growth of the Chinese bulk fleet (70% since the financial crisis) has begun to catch up with bulk trade growth (81%) but still lags significantly over a fifteen-year horizon (104% compared to 399% growth). Meanwhile, the US fleet comes in with 41% domestic port calls; this includes a large proportion of Great Lakes calls and Jones Act vessels.

500 Miles, 500 More…

So shipping is truly an industry that must go far and wide to find work. For European owners this is often a lot further than the “500 miles, 500 more” that Scottish brothers The Proclaimers sing, while for Asian owners their ships are more likely to be “Homeward Bound”. Have a nice day and safe travels home.

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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.

It has been a grim start to 2016 for the bulkcarrier market, with the Baltic Dry Index sliding to new record lows on almost every day of the year so far. With a nearly constant stream of negative news continuing to emerge across each of the key dry bulk cargo sectors, it is almost as if Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, has with his powerful trident launched a three-pronged attack.

Down To The Ocean Depths

The current depression is indeed severe. The Baltic Dry Index, a daily indicator of bulkcarrier rates, fell to its 19th consecutive record low of 317 points on 29th January. This is far below the average of 718 points in 2015, which itself was the second lowest annual average on record, and represented a year in which bulker earnings averaged around $7,000/day, little over estimated operating costs.

Surprise Attack

Of course, difficult market conditions are nothing new. Bulker earnings have been under pressure since 2011, when more than 100m dwt of deliveries kept fleet growth in double-digits. Whilst fleet growth eased to 2.4% in 2015, the slowest pace in 16 years, new demand-side pressures emerged, with dry bulk trade remaining flat last year. In Greek mythology, Poseidon’s trident had the power to cause earthquakes on earth, and there has certainly been evidence of a shake up recently. But where have each of the three prongs hit, and how sharply?

Strikes To The Core

The first earthquake is being felt in the iron ore trade, which accounts for around a third of dry bulk trade. Following rapid growth of 15% in 2014, Chinese imports eased in 2015, and expansion in iron ore trade slowed during the year (see graph). Overall, global iron ore trade is estimated to have grown by only 2% in 2015, and continued weak Chinese steel demand and the temporary closure of several major iron ore ports in January has done little to reverse this trend into 2016 so far.
The second shake up has hit trade in coal, which accounts for a quarter of dry bulk trade, very hard. Volumes declined by an estimated 5% in 2015, and the decline in volumes on the top 100 coal trade flows neared 10% y-o-y in Q3 2015, as Chinese and Indian imports fell. With several countries looking to increase reliance on clean energy sources, a major improvement in volumes seems unlikely.

Shifting The Currents

Finally, whilst the third earthquake has perhaps been less obvious than the first two, it has still had a significant impact. Growth in minor bulk trade, a diverse cargo grouping that accounts for more than a third of dry bulk trade volumes, was limited to 1% last year, owing in part to lower Chinese demand for imports of forest products, steel products, nickel ore, and various other smaller cargoes.

Stem The Tide?

So, the seas have been exceedingly stormy in the dry bulk sector. The impact from China’s economic transition is still resonating, and as yet there are few signs of an imminent improvement. As distressed conditions take their toll, hopes will be that the power of Poseidon’s trident will eventually start to ebb.

2015 was clearly a very challenging year for the shipping markets. With earnings rock bottom in many sectors, investors shifted into a lower gear with respect to the placement of new vessel orders last year. But whilst for many this might be seen as a step in the right direction in terms of rebalancing supply and demand, for the world’s shipbuilders it might feel like a most abrupt adjustment.SIW1206

Contracting Contracts

Overall contracting of new vessels in 2015 dropped by 40% to 1,306 units from 2,162 in 2014, with estimated newbuild investment falling from $113bn to $69bn. In the largely difficult market conditions investors eschewed newbuild opportunities, and the overall newbuilding price index fell by 5% over the year. The number of tanker orders increased by 14% to 424 and containership ordering increased to 224 units, but these positives were outweighed by the rapid slowdown in orders in the most challenged sectors. Orders for (ship-shaped) offshore units fell by 73% to just 127 last year and bulkcarrier ordering, so often a shipbuilding mainstay in the past, dropped by 68% to 250. To put this in a wider context 1,243 bulker orders were placed in 2013.

Broken China?

Korean builders maintained their volume of orders in dwt terms with 32.5m dwt booked, backed by significant tanker ordering and the tail of the surge in ‘mega’ boxship orders, and Japanese yards even expanded their order intake by 3% to 28.9m dwt. The drop in order volume was felt the hardest in China, where yards saw a 46% fall to 29.2m dwt, as the demand for new bulkers evaporated.

One Hand On The Brake

The drop in ordering left the orderbook down by 7% on its start year level at the end of 2015. But output from the world’s shipbuilders increased last year for the first time since 2011. Deliveries were up by 6% to 96.2m dwt, with output edging up in the major volume sectors, as many of the units ordered back around 2013 were completed. However ‘non-delivery’ of the start year orderbook schedule also increased (to 35% in dwt terms), with a ‘brakes on’ approach from many owners with units scheduled to enter the fleet.

 Not Hard Enough Yet?

Few of these trends could be construed as good news for the world’s shipbuilders, many beleaguered by financial problems. Yet the brakes haven’t really been put on hard enough to help market conditions. Overall demolition did increase by 15% to 38.6m dwt, but scrap prices have remained depressed due to a surplus of Chinese steel around the world. World fleet capacity growth slowed marginally to 3.3% in 2015, with European owners holding their own, and the number of units changing hands on the S&P market (1,334) remaining steady. But against seaborne trade growth of 2.0% this wasn’t enough to stem surplus capacity in the markets in general.

Where’s The Accelerator?

Into 2016 things still look tricky. Owners are facing up to the reality of the tough market conditions, and for them the supply side brakes may not yet have been applied robustly enough. But it has been plenty firm enough for builders, leaving demand for new units thin on the ground, and the trend could continue. Niche requirements and the need to replace older tonnage with new, more ‘eco-friendly’ units in some parts of the fleet might help, but like so many in the industry, the world’s shipbuilders find themselves hoping that somebody, somewhere finds the accelerator. Have a nice day.

In the last four months dry bulk orders have fallen to 0.4m dwt per month, the lowest level since the 1990s. This is a massive 98% reduction from the 23m dwt peak in orders in December 2007, and probably the sharpest decline in recent decades. Not really a surprise in a market where Capesize bulkers are struggling to earn $4,000/day, but a timely relief to investors with ships on the orderbook.

Investment Fever

This investment collapse marks the end of a remarkable phase of bulkcarrier history. During the last decade, 724m dwt of new bulkers have been ordered, around 70m dwt/year. Just to put that in perspective, during the previous decade ordering averaged about 20m dwt/year.

The 5 years from 1996 to 2001 were disappointing to investors, who ordered only 1.2m dwt/month. At the time this was seen as normal, and included a spike in 1999, when investors snapped up Panamax bulkers for $19-$22m. These were probably the most profitable bulkers ordered in the industry’s post-war history. Upon delivery they sailed straight into the bulk shipping boom. Proof that “crazy investors” are not always crazy.

Softly, Softly

The next phase from 2002 to November 2006 was quite restrained, considering the rise in freight rates. Ordering edged up, averaging 2.8m dwt/month. As earnings eased in 2006, many assumed the boom was over, but they were wrong and what happened next was unprecedented. As earnings escalated owners threw caution to the wind, and the big bulker cash machine drew investors from outside shipping. In December 2007, ordering peaked at 23m dwt, and in 2007 to 2014, investment averaged 6.8m dwt/month (81m dwt/year), an astonishing number for a period mostly in global recession.

Carry On Investing

Despite the onset of the global downturn in 2008, two more bulker investment spikes followed in 2010 and 2013. With surplus bulker capacity, and China’s growth engine easing off, it’s hard to explain this investment on strictly economic grounds. Easier, perhaps, to understand the change in expectations. The memory of spectacular bulker earnings had been fresh in the minds of some investors, but a decade later and that dream is fading.

The collapse in bulkcarrier investment is a particular problem for shipyards. Many builders in China and Japan surfed the wave of bulkcarrier investment and bulkers still account for around half of tonnage on order globally. In today’s sluggish world economy, that is going to be a difficult gap to fill. The fact that bulker prices are around 5% down this year, and ordering has virtually stopped tells its own story.

Big Bulker Investment Boom

So there you have it. The spectacular run of dry bulk investment which kicked off in early 2003 has finally ended. Then China’s imports were growing at 27% a year, a big difference from the 3% growth in 2014. This is disappointing, but as serious shipping investors know, in good markets and bad, there’s still an awful lot of cargo that has to be moved around the world – it’s just a matter of who moves it. Have a nice day.

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