Archives for posts with tag: Clarksons

In the high jump ‘the scissors’ was one of a number of techniques eventually superseded by Dick Fosbury’s ‘Flop’, which saw the American athlete win the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.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

As in many sectors of economic activity, provision of just the right amount of capacity is a tricky business, and the shipbuilding industry is no exception. As a result, in stronger markets the ‘lead time’ between ordering and delivery extends and owners can face a substantial wait to get their hands on newbuild tonnage, whilst in weaker markets the ‘lead time’ drops with yard space more readily available.

What’s The Lead?

So shipyard ‘lead time’ can be a useful indicator, but how best to measure it? One way is to examine the data and take the average time to the original scheduled delivery of contracts placed each month. The graph shows the 6-month moving average (6mma) of this over 20 years. When lead time ‘lengthens’, it reflects the fact that shipyards are relatively busy, with capacity well-utilised, and have the ability, and confidence, to take orders with delivery scheduled a number of years ahead. For shipowners longer lead times reflect a greater degree of faith in market conditions, supporting transactions which will not see assets delivered for some years hence. Longer lead times generally build up in stronger markets. Just when owners want ships to capitalise on market conditions, they can’t get them so easily. But lead times shrink when markets are weak; just when owners don’t want tonnage, conversely it’s easier to get. The graph comparing the lead time indicator and the ClarkSea Index illustrates this correlation perfectly.

Stretching The Lead

Never was this clearer than in the boom of the 2000s. Demand for newbuilds increased robustly as markets boomed. The ClarkSea Index surged to $40,000/day and yards became more greatly utilised even with the addition of new shipbuilding capacity, most notably in China. The 6mma of contract lead time jumped by 49% from 23 months to 35 months between start 2002 and start 2005. By the peak of the boom, owners were facing record average lead times of more than 40 months. In reality, as ‘slippage’ ensued, many units took even longer to actually deliver than originally scheduled.

Shrinking Lead

The market slumped after the onset of the financial crisis, with the ClarkSea Index averaging below $12,000/day in this decade so far. Lead times have dropped sharply, with yards today left with an eroding future book. The monthly lead time metric has averaged 26 months in the 2010s, despite support from ‘long-lead’ orders (such as cruise ships) and reductions in yard capacity. Of course, volatility in lead time recently reflects much more limited ordering volumes.

Taking A New Lead

So, ‘lead times’ are another good indicator of the health of the markets, expanding and contracting to reflect the balance of the demand for and supply of shipyard capacity. They also tell us much about the potential health of the shipbuilding industry. In addition, even if shorter lead times indicate the potential to access fresh tonnage more promptly, unless demand shifts significantly or yards can price to attract further capacity take-up quickly, they might just herald an oncoming slowdown in supply growth. At least that might be one positive ‘lead’ from this investigation. Have a nice day.


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.


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.

Once upon a time, in Germanic languages the number 1,200 represented ‘the long thousand’ and was a traditional way of measuring large numbers. Well, today Shipping Intelligence Weekly is 1,200 issues old, and that seems like a long time indeed. How have the shipping markets fared in that time and what do the ‘long cycles’ show when the ‘SIW era’ is split into parts?

A Long, Long Time Ago

The 1,199 previous editions of SIW (stretching over 22 years back to 1992) provide us with a huge amount of useful historical data, including the ClarkSea Index, our weekly indicator measuring the health of earnings in the four main shipping markets. There are many ways in which the history of the index can be analysed but one interesting view can be generated by lining up historical ‘cycles’. The graph featured here shows the result of lining up two periods of 400 SIW issues (about 8 years each) and comparing them to the performance of the index over 300 issues (6 years) since then. What this seems to tell us is that after 300 issues of the first two cycles something pretty dramatic happens!

Moving Along

Looking at the first period, issues 100-400 don’t show a great deal of variation in terms of what was to follow. Between January 1994 and December 1999 the index peaked at $15,149/day and the lowest point was $8,679/day. However, following issue 400, the index took off, peaking at $24,395/day in early 2001, before crashing back down later in the year to $8,877/day by December 2001 as the dotcom bubble collapsed, and the impact of problems in Asia and 9/11 were felt by the global economy.

A Long Time Coming

The second period really illustrates shipping’s great ‘super-boom’. Just prior to issue 500, China joined the WTO and global trade took off. On the back of rapid demand growth driven by Asia, the index headed up from around $9,000/day in late 2001 to a record peak of $50,701/day in December 2007, bang on issue 800! This time the cycle held on past 300 issues and the peak was almost regained in May 2008, but drama was just around the corner in the form of the ‘Credit Crunch’. By April 2009 the index had plummeted to $7,442/day.

How Long Will It Go On?

The last 300 issues have seen the ‘long downturn’ with substantial deliveries of new capacity and the index stuck between $20,681/day and $7,520/day (a bit like the 1990s). Despite the index surpassing $18,000/day this year there’s been no sustained respite from the downturn yet, and as of issue 1,199 (last week) the index had fallen back to $13,348/day.

Won’t Stop For Long

So, the previous two periods definitely offered up drama after 300 issues. Today, we’re at a crossroads again. Supply growth looks to be under some degree of control at last but the big story of 2015 has been the erosion of demand side growth with seaborne trade expansion slowing to around 2%. There are a range of possible scenarios but one thing is for sure: nothing stops for long in shipping.


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.