Archives for posts with tag: china

We’re well into the Year of the Rooster in China now, but trade figures for last year are still coming in and it’s interesting to see what a major impact China still had in 2016. Economic growth rates may have slowed, and the focus of global economic development may have diversified to an extent, but China was very much still at the heart of the world’s seaborne trade.

Not A Lucky Year

In 2015 the Chinese economy saw both a slowdown in growth and a significant degree of turbulence. GDP growth slowed from 7.3% in 2014 to 6.9%. Steel consumption in China was easing and growth in Chinese iron ore imports slowed from 15% to 3%. Coal imports slumped by an even more dramatic 30%. Container trade was affected badly too. China is the dominant force on many of the world’s most important container trade lanes and is involved in over half of the key intra-Asia trade. Uncertainty in the Chinese economy in 2015 took a heavy toll on this and intra-Asian trade growth slumped to 3% from 6% in 2014. Going into 2016, there was plenty of apprehension about Chinese trade, and its impact on seaborne volumes overall.

Back In Action

However, things turned out to be a lot more positive in 2016 than most observers expected. China once again underpinned growth in bulk trade, with iron ore imports surprising on the upside, registering 7% growth on the back of producer price dynamics, and coal imports bouncing back by 20%. Crude oil imports into China also registered rapid growth of 16%, supported by greater demand for crude from China’s ‘teapot’ refiners.

In containers, growth in intra-Asian trade returned to a robust 6%, and the Chinese mainlane export trades fared better too, with Far East-Europe volumes back into positive growth territory and the Transpacific trade seeming to roar ahead. Overall, total Chinese seaborne imports  grew 7% in 2016, up from 1% in 2015, with Chinese imports accounting for around 20% of the global import total. Growth in Chinese exports remained steady at 2%.

Thank Goodness

Despite all this, seaborne trade expanded globally by just 2.7% in 2016. Thank goodness Chinese trade beat expectations. Of the 296mt added to world seaborne trade, 142mt was added by Chinese imports, equal to nearly 50% of the growth. Unfortunately, this was counterbalanced by trends elsewhere, with Europe remaining in the doldrums and developing economies under pressure from diminished commodity prices.

Rooster Booster?

So, 2015 illustrated that a maturing economy and economic turbulence could derail Chinese trade growth. But China is a big place, and 2016 shows it still has the ability to drive seaborne trade and that the world hasn’t yet found an alternative to ‘Factory Asia’. 2017 might see a focus on other parts of the world too, with hopes for the US economy, India to drive volumes, and developing economies to potentially benefit from improved commodity prices. But amidst all that, China will no doubt still have a big say in the fortunes of world seaborne trade. Have a nice day.

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As the pace of growth in Chinese seaborne imports has slowed, and prospects for a return to stronger rates of expansion appear to have diminished, focus on the potential for other countries to help provide impetus to global seaborne trade growth has increased. With an economy expanding at a robust pace, and a population close to China’s, India has increasingly featured in the spotlight.

The Big Bang

China’s dramatic growth and increased raw material demand since the turn of the century propelled world seaborne trade to new heights. By 2014, China’s imports of dry bulk goods, crude oil and oil products reached 1,850mt, 1,600mt more than in 2000. China’s industry-led development saw unparalleled growth in steel output, whilst refinery capacity and coal imports surged. But with coal demand and steel output falling, imports stalled in 2015.

A Dimmer Light?

This rapid expansion in China’s imports occurred fairly quickly, and comparison to a ‘base year’ shows that Indian imports are tracking behind China’s progression. In 2000, China’s GDP per capita stood at US$1,000, and the country’s dry bulk and oil imports topped 200mt. India reached both of these milestones in 2007, and since then, Indian imports have risen by 280mt to around 500mt, compared to China’s 950mt of extra imports between 2000 and 2009. Differing political systems and economies have clearly proved key. Industry accounts for a greater share of China’s GDP than India’s, whilst 25% of growth in the value of India’s trade in the last ten years (in both goods and services) was accounted for by the service sector, compared to 12% for China.

Reaching For The Stars

The concern for some shipping sectors is that the pace of growth in India’s import volumes already appears to be slowing, partly as targets for thermal coal self-sufficiency have undermined coal imports since mid-2015. Meanwhile, India is aiming to become a ‘global manufacturing hub’, with ambitious targets to treble steel production capacity to 300mt by 2025. However, the steel industry globally is currently under severe stress, and it is also unclear to what extent output growth may boost iron ore imports given India’s domestic ore reserves.

What Do The Skies Hold?

Nevertheless, India seems to hold plenty of potential in some areas. The outlook for imports of coking coal, crude oil and oil products still appears positive. And at a macro level, in 2015, India’s dry bulk and oil imports represented 0.4 tonnes per capita, below the global average of 1.0 tonnes per capita. Bringing India towards this level could generate significant additional import volumes.

So, the stars don’t seem to be in a hurry to line up Indian imports for growth on this explosive scale for now, with coal imports likely to fall further. But this may not be the end of the story. Growth in India’s refinery capacity, steel production, GDP and population looks set to outpace China’s in the coming years. Whilst Indian imports may not dazzle in some areas as brightly as China’s have, the shipping industry will still be hoping they may provide some sparkle in others.

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For good or for bad, shipping market analysts have looked at trade growth ‘multipliers’ for many years. In 2015 global seaborne trade is estimated to have grown by 2.1%, in a year when the world economy grew by 3.1%. As a result the ratio of trade growth to global GDP expansion dropped below 1.0. What do trends in this ‘multiplier’ mean for shipping in a wider context?

Multiple Storylines

Whilst hardly an advisable way to project trade growth for a specific year (year to year the statistics are notoriously volatile), examining the ratio between world seaborne trade growth and the expansion of world GDP (‘the multiplier’) over longer time periods tells us something about the key demand drivers in shipping. As the graph shows, in the period 1990-94 the multiplier averaged 1.3 and in 1995-2010 averaged 1.1.

There were a number of drivers behind this ‘top up’ effect. The increasingly globalised economy supported growth in world trade which benefitted seaborne traffic. In the 2000s, outsourcing of production from more mature regions to distant developing world locations and then shipping goods back to consumers also generated a multiplier effect, and speedy economic growth in China hoovered up raw material cargoes at a rapid rate (maintaining support for the multiplier above the diminishing long-term trend).

Boxes’ Big Top Up

Container trade is one specific area where the multiplier has come into very clear focus. Across 1995-2010 the ratio of container trade growth to world GDP expansion averaged a robust 2.3. Global trends and outsourcing supported this too, backed by other drivers. Trade in box-friendly manufactures was a fast growing part of overall trade, containerization of general cargoes continued to provide a boost, and multi-location component processing of manufactures became the norm in Asia, supported by wage differentials and cheap box shipping.

Looking For Support?

But these multipliers have been sliding. Across 2011-16 the seaborne trade multiplier averaged less than 1.0, and the box trade multiplier just 1.3. 2015 marked a particularly weak year, with the respective figures at 0.7 and 0.8. Something is missing from the drivers previously providing the top up to economic growth. World sea trade grew by just 2.1% last year; Chinese growth rates and raw material imports have slowed, outsourcing may have peaked, and containerization is more complete than not. Multipliers have slowed; nothing lasts forever and some of the old supports appear to be no longer there. The industry will be hoping that a golden age has not just passed by.

However whilst some drivers may have run their course, others are still going strong and 2015 might not be totally representative of the trend. The economy is as global as ever with ‘Factory Asia’ still at the centre of production supporting intra-regional activity. And might there still be huge potential to unlock? Developing world consumers account for 1.2 tonnes of seaborne imports per person, leaving them a long way to go to catch up with the developed world (3.1 tonnes). The shipping industry will be looking that way for its next top up. Have a nice day.

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Bulkcarrier investors are generally an optimistic lot, with little time for pessimistic analysts. They know that however gloomy the forecasts, some time they will make a nice profit. After all, the ships last 30 years, especially small bulkers and a lot can happen in that time. But occasionally even they get gloomy and that seems to have happened today.

Bottom Fishing For A Bonus

It’s easy to see why. The Baltic Dry Index has hit all-time lows and Capesizes, which were supposed to be gold-plated investments in a world dominated by China, are looking decidedly tarnished. Nearly new ships have been chartering for well under $10,000/day and it’s been going on for a long time. These moments of deep negative sentiment are often a good time to invest, especially if finance is in short supply. It happened in 1986 when a new Panamax bulker cost $13.5m and a 5 year old ship cost $6m, and again in 1999 when new Panamax prices slumped below $20m and a 5 year old ship was sold for $13.5m. 10 years later these ships became profitable beyond the dreams of even the most optimistic investors, grossing over $100m in earnings and capital gains. Could this be another magic moment?

Gut-Based Gambling

Deep negative sentiment generally occurs when everything goes wrong at the same time. In the 1980s the world economy went into deep recession after the second oil crisis. Surplus bulker capacity was topped up by heavy deliveries, which the closure of shipyards did little to neutralise. Banks were too preoccupied with defaulting clients to consider new loans. In 1997-99 the Asia crisis, which coincided with a surge of deliveries after the brief 1995 bulker boom, left investors wondering if they would ever see light at the end of the tunnel. China was not even on the radar.

Today’s bulker outlook is also gloomy. The global steel industry is under immense pressure, and an increasing focus on clean energy is souring the outlook for coal consumption. Chinese dry bulk imports have dropped, and prospects for Indian coal imports have also worsened. So after a decade when seaborne dry bulk grew at nearly 200mt a year, in 2015 trade is set to decline. Meanwhile the surplus is being topped up by deliveries.

Searching For Silver

But there are a few positives. Cheap oil at $40/bbl is putting money in everyone’s pocket. Bulker ordering has slumped to 13m dwt this year; demolition is up 70%; fleet growth is down to 3%; and China seems keen on its ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, which could add to trade.

The Magic Number?

So there you have it. But there is one other interesting factor to consider. Somehow the tanker sector is generating very impressive earnings in a market which, on the basis of fundamental analysis, is also carrying surplus capacity. Slow steaming can help, and maybe that’s good advice. This may not be a magic moment like 1999, but, take it easy, keep your eyes open and maybe there’s a silver lining somewhere out there for the right ship. Have a nice day.

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In English if you say “he’s gone west” you mean he’s a “goner” (i.e. dead). It’s a phrase the stock market might now be applying to China’s economy. But in China, if you “go west” you get to the town of Urumqi. It has 3 million people, per capita income of $11,000 a year, the Texas Cafe serves great Tex-Mex, and it’s China’s “fastest growing city”. Oh yes – and it’s the world city most remote from the sea (2,400km).

China Really Is A Big Place

The point is that, unlike any other developing region, China is a very, very big place. Many economists would classify China’s recent growth as typical of the “Trade Development Cycle” model. Economic development uses vast quantities of raw materials, for building infrastructure and stocks of durables. Then the focus turns to less material intensive products – there’s not much iron ore in a Gucci handbag. Anyway, it looks as if China might have reached this inflection point in its development cycle.

Previous Growth Regions

Forty years ago Europe and Japan went through the same process. Between 1965 and 1973 Japan was the miracle economy, accounting for two thirds of dry bulk trade growth – just like China. The problems began in 1973 as heavy industry, especially steel, reached unsustainable capacity levels. In 2001 China’s  steel output was 151mt, up from 90mt in 1993. Useful growth which brought China’s steel production in line with Europe’s output of 159mt. But by 2013 China’s output hit 815mt and is likely to be about the same in 2015. Familiar territory.

How Big Is Too Big?

The problem is figuring out when China’s trade development is overshooting. China is so much bigger than Japan and Europe. But by looking at the ratio of the growth in total Chinese seaborne imports to growth in Chinese industrial production, a change is apparent (see chart). If the ratio is over 1, trade is growing more quickly than industrial production – from 2000 to 2003 the ratio averaged 1.6. If the ratio is 1, seaborne imports and industrial production are growing at around the same rate – in 2004-12 the ratio averaged 0.9. Below 1 is bad news – since 2012 the ratio has averaged 0.4 and has been negative in recent months.

Good News & Bad

The good news is that China’s industrial production trend remains at about 5-6% per annum. There is still a long way to go in developing the economy, especially the inland provinces. The bad news is that the stagnation of imports looks suspiciously like the structural slowdown of a maturing Trade Development Cycle. For a while it seemed that coal might fill the growth gap, but with the new attitude to the environment, that seems less likely.

Pushing West

So there you have it. Lots of drama, but the underlying economics suggest that the Chinese economy is having normal development pains, intensified by its size and the pace of growth. For shipping this may not be the end of the road, but it’s time to take a careful look at the management of the business. When a customer the size of China gets growth pains, you just can’t ignore it. Have a nice day.

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Bulkcarrier owners could be forgiven for feeling just a little bit dizzy at the moment. The unprecedented growth in China’s steel industry over the last decade has for years provided an adrenaline-infused experience in dry bulk trade. But with both Chinese steel production and iron ore imports registering a decline in the first half of 2015, is the playtime over?

Down To Earth With A Bump

It’s no surprise that the recent wobbles in China’s economy have been leaving dry bulk’s thrill-seekers with a nasty headache. Construction activity has slowed, and total steel use dropped by 5% y-o-y in the first five months of the year. Steel production has declined by a less severe 1% y-o-y, but this is still an unpleasant change of direction for those accustomed to average output growth of more than 10% per annum over the last ten years.

Round The Roundabout Again

Yet these worries over China’s steel industry are not new. According to China’s annual estimates, steel output growth in 2014 slowed to 1%, from 14% in 2013. However, iron ore imports increased in 2014 by a massive 15% to 914mt. Almost heroic growth in Australian iron ore production flooded the global iron ore market with cheap ore, displacing some higher-cost domestic Chinese ore production. Ambitious production expansion in Australia is still underway, and exports from the country are up 9% so far this year, but total Chinese seaborne imports are down 1%. So what has changed?

Balance Shifts On The See-Saw

This year seems to have proved a tipping point in the iron ore market. Weak Chinese demand is contributing to record low iron ore prices (dipping below $50/tonne in April). In 2014, the rapid drop in prices boosted China’s overall import demand, but no such positive effect is visible this year. Instead, the extent of the price drop has squeezed out a number of small iron ore miners across the world, and Chinese imports from many smaller suppliers have been depressed this year. And while Chinese miners have clearly reduced domestic production, there are questions over how much more capacity (particularly state-owned) will be cut.

Swings In Need Of A Push?

The unsettling thought for the dry bulk market is that the excitement of the Chinese ride could be coming to an end. Despite the price drop, most major ore miners are forging ahead with expansion plans. If China’s steel usage has peaked, miners will be fighting for market share in a shrinking demand arena. And if Chinese ore output proves resilient to price pressures, this could leave those expecting a resumption of firm iron ore trade growth with only a severe case of vertigo.

While global growth in low-cost ore production could still boost imports later this year, there is certainly no longer a consensus that China’s steel industry has considerable long-term growth potential. Faced with this ominous scenario, bulker owners will be hoping that the current weakness in China’s iron ore imports is only a temporary downward swing. Time will tell, but for some the playground which once spurred great excitement might be starting to lose its appeal.

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Ingmar Bergman’s classic movie The Seventh Seal is about a knight who, during the Black Death, challenges Death to a chess match, in the hope that while the game continues he can put off his demise. This grim epic could be seen as a metaphor for the daunting progress through long shipping cycles, as one risk-laden move in the toxic chess game follows another.

August 2007 – The Game Starts

Today’s cycle started eight years ago in 2007. It was an epic year. Capesize earnings averaged over $110,000/day and merchant shipbuilding investment reached a record $229 billion (excluding offshore). But there was good reason to be apprehensive. In August the first signs of the financial crisis hit Europe, as interbank investors grew paranoid about the vulnerability of their counterparties to CDO exposure, bringing Eurodollar trading to a halt. Meanwhile analysts were worried that the Chinese super-boom would peak out after the Olympic Games in 2008. So although dry bulk investors were still making money and ordering ships, the solitary chess game with destiny had already started.

Mounting A Comeback

Seven years later the chess game is still going on. The financial crisis got off to a more dramatic start than anyone anticipated. In 2008 as panic swept through financial markets and trade credit became almost unobtainable, the world economy, including China, came precariously close to meltdown. But fortunately this time the politicians eased through the crisis successfully. China mounted a heroic infrastructure programme which gave bulkers a very decent boom in 2009-10. Following this the market fluctuated, but reached decent levels in late 2011 and again in late 2013.

Not Deadly Or Distressed?

As recessions go so far the game with destiny has gone quite well. Since the end of 2007 Capesize earnings have averaged $32,300/day and the market has soaked up 490m dwt of new bulkers. In 2013, 104m dwt of bulkers were ordered. So someone in the industry believed bulkers would win their chess game.

But in 2015 the game changed. Capesize earnings averaged only $6,212/day in the first half. For the first time signs of real distress are apparent. After 8 years, dry bulk sentiment finally collapsed and bulker orders fell from 16m dwt in January 2014 to 0.05m dwt in June 2015. A helpful step towards market recovery, but it leaves the shipyards with a problem. Over the last 8 years bulkers were a third of shipyard workload (see inset pie chart). Although tankers and container ships are still being ordered, they show no sign of filling the gap left by bulkers.

Dance Macabre

So there you have it. Bulkers have finally made a meaningful move towards better times by cutting investment. But the game isn’t over yet. They still need a strong world economy and continued Chinese import growth. Meanwhile a new chess game with destiny is getting started, this time in the shipyards as they try to plug the bulker gap. Maybe the game’s not over yet. So if you want a nice relaxing summer, our advice is don’t watch The Seventh Seal. Have a nice day.

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