Archives for posts with tag: Clarksons

The world of seaborne trade spreads across a wide range of commodities and goods. But in terms of growth, at any point in time some elements look overweight or underweight compared to their share of trade in total. And once distance by sea comes into the equation, things can be even more complex. This week’s Analysis examines the tale of the scales since the downturn of 2009.


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


It is over a year now since the opening of the new, expanded locks at the Panama Canal. The new locks have had a significant impact on a number of areas of shipping, including the gas carrier sector, but the main focus of the project in Panama was always the container trade, and the Asia-US East Coast route in particular. In that regard, how do things look a little over one year on?

Old For New

The new locks at the Panama Canal opened for transit on 26th June 2016, and the impact on the box shipping sector has been largely in line with expectations. The key area of impact was always going to be the Transpacific trade, and the Asia-US East Coast route in particular, the largest volume trade through the canal. Following the opening, the Asia-USEC route immediately saw swift upsizing of ‘Old Panamax’ containerships, being replaced by ‘Neo-Panamax’ units, with operators aiming to benefit from the economies of scale offered by running larger vessels through the canal. Regular deployment of ‘Old Panamaxes’ on the Asia-USEC route via the canal has fallen from 156 units in June 2016 to 30 today.

The total of ‘Old Panamaxes’ on the broader Transpacific trade now stands at 76, including some still operated via Suez to the USEC and from Asia to the USWC. However, there are around 35 ‘Old Panamaxes’ idle, and in total (based on a wide definition of 3,000+ TEU and ‘Old Panamax’ beam) 101 have been scrapped since start 2016. Having said all that, there are still many of these units deployed elsewhere, with, on the same definition, over 450 outside the Transpacific.

Bigging It Up

Looking upwards, the initial impact last summer was a speedy upsizing of tonnage to ‘Neo-Panamaxes’. This, as expected, basically jumped the class of sub-8,000 TEU ‘wide beam’ ships; just 22 of those serve Asia-USEC today. Instead it focussed immediately on the 8-11,999 TEU ships, and today there are 93 of those deployed on the Asia-USEC. And now even units as large as 12,000+ TEU are getting in on the act, with 9 deployed Asia-USEC, taking total deployment of new ‘wider beam’ units there to 124.

Switching Off?

This is all against a backdrop of robust growth on the Transpacific, with peak leg eastbound trade up by 8% y-o-y in Jan-May 2017. However, there hasn’t been any early sign of ‘cargo switching’ with flows proving ‘sticky’, even if USEC infrastructure constraints are diminishing (lifts at the 5 leading USEC ports as a share of lifts at the 5 major USWC ports is steady at c.80%). And interestingly the additional capacity on the Asia-USEC trade from the surge in upsizing has eroded the average Asia-USEC/Asia-USWC spot box freight rate ‘premium’ only gently, from 94% in 1H 2016 to 76% in 1H 2017.

More Time Required?

So, plenty of questions remain. Will the Panamaxes finally fully depart the trade? Will a ‘cargo switch’ eventually evolve? How will the freight market trend? One year may have passed but it appears more time is needed to assess in full the longer-term impact of the new Panama locks on box shipping. Have a nice day.

Graph of the week

Conventionally, the container shipping market is viewed as made up of two key elements: the freight market for moving boxes from A to B, and the charter market for hiring ships. Often these markets are happily moving in sync, but that’s not always the case. How does the relationship work and how closely have these markets moved in relation to each other, both in recent times and historically?

Happy Couple?

Let’s start with recent history. Improved fundamentals in 2016, when box trade grew by 3.8% but containership capacity expanded by just 1.2%, and into 2017, have had a twin impact on the container shipping markets. Firstly they helped the box freight market bottom out. The mainlane freight rate index (see graph) increased from 24 in Mar-16 to 73 in Jan-17, and this pattern has been mirrored across many trade lanes. Secondly, the backdrop eventually helped support a slightly improved charter market, with rates moving away from the bottom of the cycle in late Q1 2017. In theory, demand from freight market end users (shippers) filters down to the vessel charter market in the end, with additional volume driving charterers (liner companies) to access additional units (from owners).

Splits And Separations

But does the power of the fundamentals always drag the two markets along together? It is not always the case; they often move apart. Before the financial crisis, the freight market appeared somewhat less volatile than today, but that did not always see the markets in sync. Despite more than 20% cargo growth in 2005-06, and the freight market holding most of its ground, the charter rate index slumped by 47% from an all-time high of 172 in Apr-05 to 91 in Dec-06, as super-cycle peak rates proved unsustainable.

The post-downturn period has seen similar instances. The box shipping markets moved into an era of ‘micro’ management of supply (slow steaming, idling and cascading) and this has impacted both freight and charter markets. In both early 2011 and 1H 2015 charter rates rose as freight rates dropped like a stone. In 2011 the freight rate index dropped by 38% to 47 whilst the charter rate index rallied, as operators deployed additional capacity to the detriment of freight rates. But soon after the opposite occurred, and freight rates increased but charter rates dropped back to bottom of the cycle levels where they remained for the next three years.


In the long-term, however, the two spheres do appear to be aligned. What simple inspection suggests, the numbers confirm. In only 33 of the months on the graph (21%) have the markets actually moved in opposite directions (excluding monthly movements of less than 1%).

Let’s Stick Together!

So, the two box markets do move independently at times but they often move in sync and when apart they tend to re-align (what econometricians might call an ‘error correction mechanism’). Perhaps this just confirms that ‘cargo is king’ and the supply side eventually adjusts. Whatever the case, box shipping’s famous couple can’t keep themselves apart for too long. Have a nice day.


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.