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It’s now more than a year since the tanker market took off. In mid-2014 tanker earnings picked up and since then have been in the $30-$40,000/day range. But the market remains nervous. This tanker pick-up coincided with a slump in dry bulk earnings, which is interesting because on paper bulkers and tankers both seem to have surplus capacity. So why are tankers doing so much better than bulkers?

Long-Term Premium

On an “all sizes average” basis tanker earnings generally exceed bulker earnings (the tanker “basket” contains a greater share of larger ships). For example, between 1990 and 2015 to date tanker earnings averaged $24,996/day, whilst bulkers earned $13,933/day. That gives tankers a 79% premium over bulkers. During the seven years since the Credit Crisis, the premium has remained. Tankers have earned $18,281/day, compared to bulkers’ $12,427/day, a 47% premium. So the “premium” relationship held, even during a period of deep recession.

Earnings Distribution

However, during the period of recession tanker earnings have swung from below to above “average premium levels”. To illustrate this point we have estimated what tanker earnings “should have been” over the last seven years if they had followed the “average premium” relationship with bulker earnings over the full period back to 1990. This relationship was estimated using a regression equation as a “rule of thumb”, using monthly data for the period 1990 to 2015, and then used to estimate tanker earnings since 2009 from bulker earnings, shown by the red line on the graph.

For the first five years tankers underperformed compared to the long-term “average premium” versus bulkers, with the blue line, showing actual earnings, below the red line. But in 2014 they started to exceed the expected premium as bulker earnings dropped and tanker earnings increased. Currently tanker earnings offer a significant “bonus” above the estimated “norm”, at levels about six times higher than bulker earnings.

More Than One Answer

So what’s going on? The first answer is that tankers are playing “catch up” for the bad run early in the recession. But there are other answers to the question. One is that in 2015 oil trade has grown much faster than expected, increasing by 4% compared with only 2% expected earlier in the year. Another is the oil price collapse from over $100/bbl to close to $40/bbl, creating an opportunity for arbitrage by holding oil in ships, in anticipation of a price increase. Additionally, of course, bulkers have suffered from an absence of demand growth this year.

The Usual Suspects?

So there you have it. The tanker boom has gone on longer than many might have anticipated and tanker earnings are outperforming their long-run relationship with bulker earnings. But a “fundamental” surplus remains and investors might be right to be cautious. Scrapping has almost stopped, ordering has picked up and supply growth is set to increase. So, enjoy it while you can, and remember that it’s partly a game of catch up. Have a nice day.



For many of the markets covered by Shipping Intelligence Weekly, the first part of 2015 was relatively kind. Rates for crude and product tankers were riding high, boxship charter rates picked up for the first time in years and VLGC rates have hit levels above 2014 averages. Even Capesizes have recently shown signs of life. But spare a thought for the offshore sector, the hardest hit by the oil price decline.

Price Drop

Back in the downturn of 2008/09, most commodity and shipping markets felt the negative impact and the offshore markets were no exception, with dayrates dropping by an average of around 35% (see graph).  Moving forward to the current time, however, the 50% decline in oil prices since mid-2014 has brought some relief for merchant vessels, in the form of cheaper bunkers, and stimulated oil demand, helping trade. But cheaper oil has meanwhile put heavy pressure on the offshore sector, where field operators already faced cashflow problems as field developments ran late and over-budget. The response has been sharp cuts in exploration and production (E&P) budgets. It is estimated that spending on offshore E&P will fall by 19% this year.

Investment Cuts

This means investment decisions on new projects have been deferred, whilst expenditure to enhance recovery from existing fields has also slipped. Accordingly, drilling demand has fallen, just as deliveries of new jack-up and floating drilling rigs have accelerated. Rates for ultra-deepwater floaters are now almost 50% below their late 2013 peak, at around $300,000/day. This reflects the reduced demand in frontier areas for exploration and appraisal drilling, not helped by the corruption investigations in Brazil. Meanwhile, jack-up drilling rig rates have been equally hard hit, with shale gas production killing demand in one of their traditional major markets, the shallow water Gulf of Mexico. Utilisation of jack-ups is below 80%, and rates have fallen more than 35% to around $100,000/day.

Less Support For Vessels

This has had rapid knock-on consequences. The 5,365 vessels and 1,133 owners in the OSV market are also exposed to the downturn in exploration drilling and operational field maintenance. Fewer active rigs harms the AHTS market for rig towage and positioning, whilst PSVs rely on the growth in active offshore installations (drilling rigs, plus mobile and fixed production platforms) to add to demand. Rates for OSVs are down in all regions, by over 35% on average in terms of the index on the graph. PSVs have a further problem of a robust supply growth to contend with (and close to 40% of the fleet on order for the largest units over 4,000 dwt).

Of course, markets are cyclical, and the offshore sector had its moment in the sun during 2012/13, at a time when several of the merchant shipping markets were in the doldrums. Although the current oversupply in world oil markets of around 1.5m bpd is a clear short-term hurdle, projected demand trends suggest that higher oil prices remain a likely prospect in the long-term, and the improvement in other sectors suggests that there will eventually be light at the end of the tunnel for offshore too. It’s just that it could be a little way off yet. Have a nice day.

Price ratios are a classic indicator used in a range of industries where assets depreciate over time. In the shipping sector, they can often tell us something about the perceived health of the market, and in particular about what investors are really willing to outlay to get their hands on assets that are on the water today compared to investing in a new vessel.

A Classic Ratio

One classic shipping market indicator is the ratio of the 5 year old price of a ship to the newbuild price of a similar vessel. On the basis of a 25 year lifespan, a 5 year old ship, depreciating on an even basis, would be worth around 80% of the newbuild price. However, if investors feel that the market is strong enough, they may be willing to pay a premium to get their hands on a secondhand vessel to operate in the market today. Conversely, if the earnings environment looks weak, investors may take a more negative view of the value of the existing asset.

The graph shows the 5yo/Newbuild price ratio for a VLCC tanker, a Panamax bulkcarrier and a 2750 TEU containership over time. Immediately apparent is that during the boom shipping market of the mid to late 2000s, the featured ratios stood well above the 80% line, and at times above 100% for all three vessel types, with the Panamax bulker ratio as high as 170% in late 2007. Since the downturn in 2008, the ratios have fallen. From one angle, it could have been worse; there was a period when all three ratios exceeded 80% (Mar 10-Jun 11). However, in general the ratios have been depressed, and there have been clear phases (Oct 08-Mar 09, Aug 12-Apr 13) when they have all been below 80%.

Ups And Downs

So what do the ratios tell us today? Tanker earnings have had a strong run since late 2014 but even so the VLCC price ratio stands only a little above 80%, maybe indicating that investor positivity is mixed with caution. Meanwhile, the bulker market is in severe recession and the Panamax price ratio has fallen from 95% during 2014 to 65%, showing how investors’ optimism has drained.

Lower Levels

The containership ratio, however, is on the up, with earnings recently improved. But it still stands at just 54%, perhaps indicating investors’ caution and relative preference for new tonnage. At boxships’ higher speeds, the difference in fuel efficiency between new and older tonnage is more marked, though the ratio was higher in the 2010-11 period when fresh interest arose in a sector that ‘looked cheap’.
Reading The Classics

So, price ratios are classic indicators, and as if it needed emphasising, today’s ratios show that the shipping markets aren’t perceived by investors to be close to full health yet. Overall sale and purchase volumes in the year to date are a little way behind last year’s levels, and the price ratios today might give an indication as to investors’ actual feelings about assets on the water. But markets change quickly, so just like classic cars which get taken out once in a while, it’s the same for classic indicators – and market watchers should probably take another reading soon. Have a nice day.


In the hit Disney movie ‘Frozen’, Olaf is a snowman who lives in a world of cold but dreams of experiencing the heat of the summer. The shipping markets have been, in the main, fairly icy in the years since the economic downturn, but during that time shipping market investors have intermittently dreamt of sunnier times and turned up the heat, so how ‘frozen’ up has the shipping market really been?

Taking The Temperature

Like the eternal winter in the film, the shipping markets have been fairly iced up in recent years. The ClarkSea Index has traditionally been a good way of taking the temperature of industry earnings, measuring the performance of the key market sectors. Since Q4 2008 it has averaged $11,933/day, compared to $23,663/day in the period from the start of 2000 to the end of Q3 2008. However, earnings aren’t the only ‘hot thing’ in shipping. Investment in ships can blow hot and cold, and funds invested in newbuild and secondhand tonnage give an idea of the ‘heat’ generated by investors. To take this into account, the analysis here has created the ‘Shipping Heat Index’, which reflects not only vessel earnings but also the level of investment activity.

Generating Some Heat

The graph shows quarterly ‘Earnings’ and ‘Heat’ indices together, and illustrates a number of points. Firstly it shows that in the post-recession period (relative to the average before the downturn) the ‘Shipping Heat Index’ has stood at a higher level (an average 63% of pre-recession ‘heat’) than the ‘Earnings Index’ (an average of 50% of pre-recession levels). Whatever the state of the markets, shipping investors have dreamt of greater warmth and invested in capacity, often attracted by counter-cyclical opportunities at historically low prices, or the perceived benefits of new ‘eco’ tonnage.

Twin Peaks

Secondly, it is clear that the ‘Shipping Heat Index’ has had two discernable peak periods in the post-recession era. In 2010 and early 2011 it stood well above the ‘Earnings Index’, peaking at 95 in Q1 2010 compared to the latter’s 67. It did the same in 2013 and 1H 2014, peaking at 89 in Q4 2013 (compared to 56). In these periods investment in capacity surged, with investors generating heat even if earnings looked a bit more frosty.

Freezing Up

Thirdly, in Q4 2014 the relative position of the two indices has switched for the first time since Q4 2008. The Q4 value of the ‘Shipping Heat Index’ stood at 53 with the ‘Earnings Index’ at 59. The ClarkSea Index topped $16,000/day in November, with tanker earnings surging and gas carriers still performing strongly. Meanwhile, the investment scene has frozen up a little, with newbuild ordering now a lot slower than in 2013 and early 2014.

Don’t Melt!

So, even when shipping markets appear ‘frozen’, investors can still generate ‘heat’, and even in icy conditions snowmen dream of summer. With earnings rising, dreamers might be tempted again next year. The only danger is that too much heat can lead to a spot of melting if you’re not careful! Merry Christmas.

SIW 1152

Each year, in the first week of November, we invite readers of the Shipping Intelligence Weekly to predict the value of the ClarkSea Index one year ahead. The competition entries are always interesting, and give us an idea of what the shipping industry’s expectations of the market really are. However, as everyone knows, it’s hard to get it right and the competition can only have one winner…

Stick Or Twist?

In 2013, it felt like there was some consensus amongst industry players that the bottom of the cycle might have been reached and that markets would start to take a turn for the better. Shipowners contracted 176.9m dwt of new ships, the highest level since 2008, reflective of a more optimistic outlook than previously. The ClarkSea Index represents a weighted average of tanker, bulker, boxship and gas carrier earnings, and it is interesting to see if the entries in our annual competition supported this optimism.

At a first glance it seems that competition entrants had a cautiously positive outlook, with the average prediction of the early November 2014 index value at $14,553/day, well above the $10,843/day average prediction for November 2013 from last year’s competition. The average forecast was also far above the actual full year 2013 ClarkSea Index average of $10,263/day, and the value at the start of November 2013 of $10,767/day.

Hard Times?

Looking at 2014 to date, this optimism may have been slightly misplaced. The ClarkSea Index overall has not performed particularly well since November 2013, averaging just $11,625/day. Crude tanker earnings have improved but have been spiky, while product tanker earnings have generally remained under pressure. Bulker earnings have seen limited upside aside from some helpful spikes in the Capesize market. Gas carriers have been the star performers, with significant earnings gains, but containership earnings have remained in the doldrums.

During most of 2014 to date, the index has stood below the $12,000/day mark. Across the 45 weeks in the year to date, the ClarkSea Index only exceeded the average competition prediction in three of them. However, last week, on 7th November 2014, the ClarkSea Index rose to $15,139/day, helped by more positive bulker and tanker markets and up 41% year-on-year, if still well below the 2004-13 historical average of $20,795/day.

Pipped At The Post?

So, although index levels this year have generally remained low, the recent rise has meant that the actual value on 7th November was higher than the majority of competition entries. Around 25% of the ‘forecasts’ stood in the $13-14,000/day range; maybe people were right to be optimistic after all? However, having dipped below the $10,000/day mark in September, the index has only really improved over the last month or so.

So, is the glass half empty or half full? Depending on your viewpoint, the cautious optimism has either been misplaced or justified. Whatever the case, this year’s winner is Mr Peter Bekkeston of Klaveness Chartering with a forecast of $15,123/day. Have a nice day, Peter; your champagne is on its way.


A key question in any discussion of today’s shipping surplus is “won’t scrapping solve the problem?”. Eco-ships will make all the over-age tonnage obsolete and the problem’s solved. Unfortunately this solution, which is promoted in most shipping cycles, relies on a good deal of wishful thinking. It turns out that life isn’t always that easy, so once again it is helpful to turn our attention to demolition.

Not Over-Aged, Over-Simplified

The first problem is the meaning of “over-age”. It suggests a line in the age profile of the fleet at which ships are demolished, making way for younger and better vessels. This approach was used in the 1980s to predict scrapping of VLCCs built in the 1970s boom. These ships, it was argued, had a 20 year life and the model predicted heavy scrapping in the mid-1990s. But things developed very differently. Some were scrapped, but many 1970s VLCCs sailed on to the ripe old age of 30 years and made good money!

Disorderly Phase-Out

In practice ships only get scrapped when investors believe they can never make a profit. The limited capital tied up in an old ship is underwritten by its scrap value, and trading in the hope something will turn up does not cost much. The problem is the repair cost. By 30 years old the bills are bigger and the future limited, so even well maintained ships bow out at the 6th special survey, while their neglected contemporaries disappear at the 4th or 5th.

Gradual Phase-Out

To see how “phased scrapping” has worked recently we compared tonnage demolished since 2009 against the tanker and bulker fleet age profiles at start 2009. The tanker fleet seemingly phased out quite rapidly. By start October 2014, 60-85% of the fleet built in 1992 or earlier had been scrapped, with 59.7m dwt removed from capacity built 1996 or earlier over the period. The bulkers show a slightly different pattern. 83% of the vessels built in 1984 or earlier have been scrapped, but from then on the figure drops to 20-40% for 1992-93 built ships, with 107.0m dwt of capacity built 1996 or earlier removed. Tankers have generally had a lower life expectancy than bulkers.

Future Demolition

One way to look ahead (and there are many) is to use this phase-out model to project demolition levels. After 5 years of demolition and tanker phase-out, the fleet of ships built 20 to 30 years ago is much diminished. If the phase out rates for the last five years are applied to today’s fleet built 2001 or earlier for the next 5 year period, about 60m dwt of tankers would be demolished (12m dwt a year). 90m dwt of bulkers would also be gone (21m dwt a year). That’s 30m dwt of removals a year, not too far from the recent trend.

Predicting demolition by phasing out ships at a particular age is OK, but in practice some ships age better than others. Then there are ships which leave the fleet through conversion to offshore or another activity. But behaviour patterns can change. If dry cargo charterers became as demanding as their counterparts in the tanker business, the “age gap” between tankers and bulkers might close and bulker demolition could be very different. Have a nice day.


In the early 1990s when shipping emerged in a fragile state from the traumas of the 1980s, raising finance was a problem. The shipping banks had taken a battering in the 1980s, and the US financial crisis had taken out the American banks. ‘Basel 1’ made getting a loan over $25m difficult, syndications were rare and the capital markets were unapproachable.

$200 Billion? No Way

Against this background, estimates that the shipping industry would need to raise $200 billion to finance investment during the 1990s seemed an impossible mountain to climb. In fact these estimates of future investment requirement, based on the need to replace the ageing fleet and allow for expansion of the key tanker, bulkcarrier and containership fleets, proved to be on the low side. During the decade investments in new ships added up to about $340 billion. And of course, miraculously, the money appeared. Syndications, club deals, capital market transactions, the German KG market and a few new banks filled the gap.

$1.4 Trillion? No Way

But history repeats itself and today the old problem of “where will the money come from?” is back on the agenda with a vengeance. This time the numbers are bigger. On our rough estimate, the cost of financing the shipping industry over the decade from 2014 to 2023 could be around $1.4 trillion. That’s a massive step up from the 90s (the chart shows investment from 1990 to 2013, with estimates to 2025). But the business has changed dramatically since the early 1990s when it was mostly about tankers, bulkcarriers and containerships. In the coming decade only half the investment (about $760 billion) is to finance the replacement and expansion of these core fleets.

New Investment Era

The other half consists of sectors which, in the early 1990s, had little impact (partly, perhaps, because there weren’t many statistics). Two market segments which look likely to generate a lot of value-added over the coming decade are LNG tankers and cruise ships. These are not newcomers; they have been around for years. But the changing world economy seems likely, in different ways, to boost investment in these segments very substantially, and together they account for about 20% of the projected investment.

The other big segment of potential investment for the shipyards is offshore. In the early 1990s that was, like the proverbial dodo, an extinct entity, with little business on offer. But the relentless pressure on energy supplies, both oil and gas, and the focus on mobile facilities, suggests this might account for as much as 30% of future shipyard investment.

Spend, Spend, Spend

So there you have it. Shipping needs the investment, but where will the money come from? Most analysts agree there’s a tidal wave of cash sloshing around the world, looking for a home with a good story. Unfortunately shipping’s financial story remains a bit patchy, but the reassuring lesson of the 1990s is that there’s always someone who will find a way to do the business. Who will it be this time? Well, that’s the trillion dollar question. Have a nice day.