Archives for posts with tag: Container

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.

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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

The vast majority of the world’s trade in goods is moved by sea, and it has long been recognised how shipping is a critical element of the global economy, providing the connection between producers and consumers all over the planet. However, what is less frequently mentioned is the tremendous ‘value for money’ with which it does so; this is clearly worth a closer look…

Bargain Of The Century?

One US dollar doesn’t get you much in today’s world. On the basis of latest prices it would buy 0.025 grams of gold or 2% of a barrel of crude oil. Based on Walmart’s latest online pricing it would buy about half a litre of milk. That’s not a lot whichever way you look at it, in a world economy that is 75 trillion dollars large. But in shipping one dollar still gets you something very substantial. One way of looking at this is to take the movement of cargo in tonne-mile terms and divide it by the estimated value of the fleet. Here, to try to do this in like-for-like terms, the calculation includes crude and oil products, dry bulk, container and gas trade, and the ships that primarily carry those cargoes. On this basis, one dollar of ‘world fleet value’ at the start of May 2017 would have bought 110 tonne-miles in a year, based on 2017 trade projections. What an amazing bargain! One tonne of cargo moved more than 100 miles, per year, all for one little greenback!

What’s In A Number?

What drives this number? Well the essence of the value of course lies in the huge economies of scale generated by moving cargo by sea in vast quantities at one time over significant distances. The average haul of one tonne in the scope of the cargoes listed above is estimated at 5,016 miles and the average ship size at 58,706 dwt. Of course the amount of tonne-miles per dollar can vary over time, depending on changes in asset market conditions, the underlying cost and complexity of building ships and vessel productivity, speed and utilisation (rates of fleet and trade growth aren’t perfectly aligned most of the time). Across sectors the statistics can vary significantly too.

Buy In Bulk

One dollar of bulkcarrier and oil tanker tonnage accounts for 154 and 101 tonne-miles of trade per year respectively. For more complex, expensive ships the figure is lower: 20 for gas carriers. For boxships, despite their higher speed, the figure stands at 114. Vessel size (economies of scale in building) and cargo density (this analysis is in tonnes) play a role too in these relative statistics (which also don’t always capture the full range of cargo carried by each ship type).

Value For All Time

Nevertheless, whatever the precise numbers and changes over time, 110 tonne miles of trade each year for one dollar of asset expenditure just sounds like mighty good value at a time when a dollar doesn’t go very far. This underpins shipping’s ability to carry an estimated 84% of the world’s trade in tonnes and act as the glue holding the globalised economy together. Shipping’s famous volatility retains the ability to make and lose fortunes for asset players but the underlying economic contribution of each dollar invested may just be one of the greatest bargains of all time. Have a nice day.

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The fundamental lying beneath the shipping industry is cargo and its journey, and in many cases the cargoes are the world’s key commodities. In 2014, prices across a range of commodities took a sharp dive, but over the last year or so they’ve started to improve again. So, what do the trends in the prices of the commodities underlying the shipping markets tell us about the shape of things today?

Oiling The Wheels?

Most followers of commodities will be aware of the oil price downturn, with the price of Brent crude falling from an average of $112/bbl in June 2014 to reach a low of $32/bbl in February 2016. However, it has since improved, to an average of $52/bbl in March 2017, with the key driver the implementation of oil output cuts by major producers. Despite this recent price rise, in this case the underlying commodity price trend does not appear to be supportive for shipping, with seaborne crude oil trade growth subsequently slowing, having risen by an average of 3.9% p.a. in 2015-16, and tanker markets easing back. On the other hand, rising oil prices might start to help support an improved offshore project sanctioning environment, though the stimulation of increased shale production in the US poses a risk to its seaborne imports.

Bulk Bounce

On the dry bulk side, the iron ore price fell from $155/t in February 2013 to reach a low of $40/t in December 2015 but has since recovered robustly to an average of $87/t in March 2017. Meanwhile, the coal price fell from $123/t in September 2011 to a low of $50/t in January 2016 but has since improved firmly to an average of $81/t in March 2017. In China government policies and domestic output cuts drove shipments of ore (up 7%) and coal (up 20%) in 2016, helping to support international prices. Demand growth has continued in the same vein in 2017, with ore and coal imports up 13% and 48% y-o-y respectively in the first two months. Average Capesize spot earnings recently hit $20,000/day, and some industry players have appeared cautiously optimistic about the possibility of better markets.

Spending Power?

What does all this mean for the third main volume sector, container shipping? Well, in this case, the previous downward pressure on commodity prices had been felt in the form of pressure on imports into commodity exporting developing economies faced with reduced income and spending power. This had a clear negative impact on volumes into Latin America, Africa and eventually even the Middle East; overall north-south volume growth fell below 1% in 2016. Although it’s early days yet, the recovery in commodity prices should suggest a gradual improvement even if the benefits lag commodity pricing, and the positive impact might not be evenly paced across the regions.

From The Bottom Up

So, it appears that commodity prices have now departed the bottom of the cycle. Alongside the impression of a generally firmer background, inspection of the underlying drivers suggests a mixture of messages for shipping, less beneficial in some instances, but in many ways more positive for volumes. As ever, it’s interesting to take a look at what lies beneath…

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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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Strong demolition has been a prominent feature of the shipping industry this year, as challenging market conditions continue to drive a significant supply-side response in a number of sectors. Across the total shipping fleet, demolition could reach one of the highest levels on record in full year 2016, but which markets in particular have taken the biggest hits?

Revving Up

2016 has been an extremely difficult year for the shipping markets, with conditions in most sectors under pressure. Reflecting this, demolition has remained at elevated levels, and in January to November, 841 vessels of 41.3m dwt were scrapped. Demolition so far this year has already exceeded last year’s total of 38.9m dwt, and whilst scrapping volumes have picked up in most sectors, some markets have played a more important role in this year’s tally than others.

Bulker Beat

Amidst continued depressed earnings, bulkcarriers have accounted for the lion’s share of tonnage scrapped this year. Bulker scrapping set a new record in 1H 2016, and while demolition has slowed in recent months, 385 bulkers of 27.7m dwt have been scrapped in the year to date. Bulker demolition has been historically firm since 2011, but the pace of scrapping in most bulker sectors this year has still exceeded the 2011-15 average, with Capesize and Panamax recycling this year around 1.4 times this level.

Boxship Bumps

Meanwhile, containership demolition has also made headlines this year, with increasingly young vessels being recycled. In dwt terms, boxship scrapping has totalled 7.9m dwt so far in 2016, but recycling volumes are already over triple that of full year 2015, with scrapping on track to reach a record 0.7m TEU this year. The pace of demolition of ‘old Panamaxes’ has been running at more than twice the five year average, whilst scrapping has accelerated firmly in the 3,000+ ‘wide beam’ sectors, with 6,000+ TEU boxships also scrapped for the first time.

Big Hits On The Bodywork?

By contrast, despite the softening in crude and product tanker market conditions this year, tanker scrapping has remained relatively subdued, at less than half of the five year average. However, while gas carrier scrapping remains limited in numerical terms, with just 18 ships recycled so far this year, LPG carrier demolition is on track to reach around double the five year average after earnings fell swiftly to bottom of the cycle levels. Meanwhile, car carrier scrapping has soared to 27 units of 0.14m ceu. This is already the second highest level on record, and on an annualised basis is four times above the 2011-15 average.

So, while total demolition this year is still falling short of 2012’s record 58.4m dwt, 2016 looks set to see yet another year of very firm recycling, eight years after the onset of the downturn. In some sectors, this strong scrapping is providing a helpful brake on fleet expansion. Furthermore, with bruising market conditions having clearly taken their toll, many owners are likely to be looking to the demolition market for a little while yet.

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Last week’s Analysis examined the key impacts of the opening of the new locks at the Panama Canal across a range of shipping sectors. This week, with the new locks up and running for commercial business, the focus falls on the containership sector, with the capability to allow the transit of larger boxships one of the key aims of the canal expansion project.

Wide Boys Welcome!

At the ‘old’ locks, containerships accounted for a large share of the transits, and an even larger share of the overall toll revenue on the back of high value box cargo transits most notably from Asia to the US East Coast. Based on the official ‘New Panamax’ dimensions, the new locks will allow containerships of up to around 13,500 TEU (dependent on the precise design) to transit. Only 207 boxships in today’s fleet will be too large to pass through. The amount of TEU capacity able to pass through the canal will rise from 37% to 85% of the fleet.

Bigger And Better?

Subsequently, a key impact on container shipping is the potential for upsizing of ships operating on the Asia-USEC trade. It looks likely that operators will upsize from ‘old Panamaxes’ initially to units around or above 8,000 TEU, with a number of carriers having already put new service plans in place. Even larger ships may eventually follow when port and infrastructure projects on the USEC are completed. Whether that is then followed by ‘cargo switching’ from Asia-USWC-‘landbridge’ to Asia-USEC ‘all water’ services on the basis of lower seaborne unit costs for now remains to be seen.

Another impact is on the structure of the containership sector. A new, more appropriate segmentation is needed. Along with the new vessel indicators and profiling described last week, Clarksons Research data will also provide fresh segmentation of the containership fleet from July onwards (see graph) to provide the most market-relevant statistics.

Splitting Up The Big Boys

The sector now looks different with new segments clear. The 8-11,999 TEU sector will comprise the initial wave of ‘Neo-Panamaxes’. The 12-14,999 TEU sector contains the larger ‘Neo-Panamaxes’ of the future. Today 59 ships in the 12-14,999 TEU sector can transit the new locks on the basis of the official dimensions, another 39 have dimensions so close to the limits one would imagine they are likely to transit, and a further 50 will probably fit through on the basis of the already mooted expansion of the beam restriction to 51m. There are a further 43 ships closely related in design terms to those detailed above, but above 15,000 TEU there is a clear step up to much longer and beamier designs. Deeper levels of segmentation will continue to track the decline in the ‘old Panamax’ sector.

Big News Is Old News?

So the opening of the new locks in Panama is big news for bigger boxships. Market watchers will have to keep a keen eye on the impact, and also get used to a new perspective on the market structure and data. But in a sector where there’s been so much upsizing in recent years anyway, perhaps that’s not such a new thing after all? Have a nice day.

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