Archives for posts with tag: Containers

In the shipping world, ‘Santa’s Sleigh’ is the big containership fleet, which carries the goods from manufacturers in Asia to the retailers in Europe and North America in good time for consumers to prepare for the holiday season. How full the ‘sleigh’ appears to be each year gives an interesting indication of the health of the containerised freight sector.

A Tricky Sleigh Ride

Broadly, the containership sector has generated a huge potential surplus of capacity since the global financial crisis. By the end of 2016, despite the recent surge in demolition activity, 9.1 million TEU of capacity will have been added to the fleet since the end of 2008, equal to growth of 84%. During the same period box trade has grown by around 34%. For those who deliver the world’s consumer goods, this has required a huge balancing act, managing surplus supply through slower speeds, and idling of capacity. The difficulty of this has created huge volatility in freight rate levels. Meanwhile, from early 2014 freight rates seemed to have been moving sharply downhill. Goods for the holiday season are usually moved to retailers with plenty of time to spare in the peak shipping season from May to October, but nonetheless overall movements in mainlane trade and capacity deployed (see graph description) give us a good idea of how full ‘Santa’s Sleigh’ might have been.

Last Christmas

Following the acute drop in freight rates in 2014, things were looking tricky for the bearers of gifts by the end of 2015. Spurred by ‘mega-ship’ deliveries and 8% growth in the boxship fleet, mainlane running capacity grew by 5% in 2015. But trade had hit the buffers. Although there was annual peak leg volume growth of 6% on the Transpacific, peak leg Far East-Europe volumes slumped by 3% on the back of a sluggish Europe, collapsing Russian volumes and destocking by retailers (perhaps not enough folk had been well-behaved enough for Santa to pay a visit?). At one point Far East-Europe spot freight rates hit $205/TEU, catastrophically low levels for the liner companies.

Wonderful Christmastime?

But things have eventually started to look a tiny bit brighter. Disciplined capacity management (cascading and idling) allied to slower deliveries has seen mainlane capacity drop 3% this year, whilst peak leg mainlane volumes look set to be up 2% with Far East-Europe growth back in positive territory. With the collapse of Hanjin, there’s one less sleigh driver, potentially allowing others to fill up more. Mainlane freight looks like it might have bottomed out; Asia-USWC spot rates jumped from an average of $1,459/FEU in Q3 2016 to $1,732/FEU in Q4 to date.

The Best Kind Of Present

How do things look for ‘Santa’s Sleigh’ in 2017? Well, with more capacity to come, any gains will be very hard won (and for the charter owners there’s still plenty of capacity idle). But it looks like there should be further cargo growth, so the challenge for Santa will once again be to maintain an appropriate amount of space for all the gifts. If he does that, the sleigh might feel fuller next year. That would be a nice present for the liner industry.


Every year, readers of the Shipping Intelligence Weekly are invited to submit their predictions of the value of the ClarkSea Index at the start of November the following year. The predictions are always illuminating, indicating how market watchers feel the shipping markets may pan out in the coming year, as well as shedding light on how well they have fared in avoiding potential forecasting ‘traps’…

Treading Carefully

So far in 2016, the ClarkSea Index has averaged $9,131/day, 37% lower than the full year 2015 average, with earnings in each of the sectors that comprise the ClarkSea Index down in 2016. Although there was a general consensus that tanker and LPG carrier earnings would come off this year, with accelerating fleet growth expected, some were hopeful that earnings in the bulkcarrier and containership sectors had bottomed out and would see some upside. Whilst these views on the tanker and gas carrier sectors appear to have played out broadly as expected, year to date average bulker and containership earnings currently stand 20% and 33% down on full year 2015 average levels respectively, and on November 4th the ClarkSea Index stood at $9,207/day.

Avoiding The Traps?

In the past, the ClarkSea Index competition has often indicated that participants expect the market to improve in the coming year. However, this year, many participants have avoided this potential ‘trap’, with just one third of entrants expecting (or perhaps hoping) that the ClarkSea Index would stand above the full year 2015 average on 4th November 2016. In fact, only 20% of entrants expected the ClarkSea Index to improve to $15,000/day or above at that point in time.

However, the majority of participants’ entries failed to avoid another ‘pitfall’ of forecasting, not expecting (or perhaps not wishing) that overall market conditions would deteriorate further. Rather expectations appeared to be that the ClarkSea Index would remain broadly steady. Overall, the average of the entries was $13,442/day, broadly in line with the 2015 average of $14,410/day, with around 70% of competition entrants predicting that the ClarkSea Index would stand between $11,000/day and $15,000/day on the first week of November.

Circumventing The Pitfalls

As those in shipping are all too aware, predicting how the markets as a whole will fare in the year ahead is a tricky task, especially when considering the often contrasting fortunes of the sectors that make up the ClarkSea Index. Throw the issue of timing that prediction to a single week into the mix, and side-stepping the various traps becomes even harder. The average of the predictions was more than $4,000/day away from the actual result.

So, the ClarkSea Index highlights the still very challenging market conditions, and although some of the optimism of previous competition entries was not so evident this year, it was still the case that the majority of predictions were too high. Nevertheless, the competition as always provided one winner. This year’s closest prediction was a forecast of $9,042/day, just $165 away from the actual value. Congratulations to the winning entrant; the champagne is on its way.


As snooker players know, it’s hard to keep a good break going. In today’s conditions, the shipping industry needs supply-side re-positioning to help the markets back to improved health, and increased recycling in recent years has been a clear part of this. However, there’s still some way to go to better times, so it’s worth taking a look at how today’s ‘big break’ might leave the future potential scrapping profile.

The Big Break!

Since the start of 2009, a total of 206.6m GT of shipping capacity has been sold for recycling, compared to an aggregate of 63.1m GT in the previous seven years. This total includes 94.7m GT of bulkcarrier tonnage and 29.1m GT of containerships, helping to address oversupply in the volume shipping markets. But given such a prolific run of demolition activity, what does the future potential scrapping profile look like? Well, there are many measures that can be used to investigate this, including the metric featured in the graph. If the average age of scrapping is taken as a useful indicator of the current state of conditions facing owners in each market, then calculating the amount of tonnage remaining in the fleet at today’s average age of scrapping or higher might tell us something interesting, especially if ongoing market conditions persist.

What’s Left On The Table?

In the tanker sector, which up until fairly recently was backed by stronger market conditions, the average age of scrapping in the year to date remains relatively high, at 25 years for crude tankers and 27 for product tankers (bear in mind that not many tankers have been sold for scrap recently, and the average age may fall). Given that a lot of older single hulled tanker tonnage was phased out in the 2000s, the amount of tonnage above the average age today is limited. In the bulker and containership sectors, both under severe market pressure for some time now, the statistics are a little more revealing. Despite heavy recycling in recent times, the share of tonnage above the current average age of scrapping is 8% for Capesizes and 6% for Panamaxes. For boxships sub-3,000 TEU the figure is 10% and for those 3-6,000 TEU 12%. Of course if the average age of scrapping falls, then the picture changes again. In the 3-6,000 TEU boxship sector, the youngest ship sold for scrap this year was just 10 years old; around 50% of tonnage today is that age or older.

Cue More Demo?

What does this tell us overall? Well, using the sector breakdown shown in the graph, the statistics tell us that around 75m GT in the fleet is above the current average age of scrapping, 6% of the world fleet. At 2016’s rate of demolition, that’s another 2.4 years’ worth. And given the age profile of the world fleet, after another 2 years an additional 21m GT will have crossed the current average age mark and after 5 years another 77m GT.

Break Not Over?

So, what chance does the industry have of keeping the demolition pressure on? Well, obviously freight and scrap market conditions and regulatory influences will have a big say. However, it looks like, in today’s terms at least, the industry might be in a good position to keep the break going. Have a nice day.

SIW1242 Graph of the Week

During July 2016, the containership fleet reached a landmark 20 million TEU in terms of aggregate capacity. To many it only seems like yesterday when the boxship fleet passed the 10 million TEU mark, back in April 2007. It took less than 10 years to double in capacity to reach the new milestone. Sprightly fleet growth indeed, but how rapid is it when compared to other parts of the world fleet?

Compound Crazy

Albert Einstein once called the impact of compound growth the ‘most powerful force in the universe’, and containership fleet capacity is a great example of this power. Total boxship capacity doubled from 5m TEU in size (in April 2001) to 10m TEU (in May 2007) in 6.2 years, and since then it has doubled in size again from 10m TEU to an astounding 20m TEU across just a further 9.3 years.

This rapid growth of the containership sector is a fairly well known story. In many respects the box sector is still a youthful part of the shipping world; since the inception of container shipping in the 1950s, the fleet has grown quickly from humble origins as trade has flourished. At the same time the fleet has upsized at a phenomenal rate. The average size of containerships in the fleet stood at 1,807 TEU in April 2001 and increased to 2,425 TEU in May 2007. Today, with behemoth boxships of over 19,000 TEU on the water, the average size of units in the fleet is 3,832 TEU, and the average size of those on order is even larger at 8,030 TEU.

Maturing Slowly

In contrast, some other shipping sectors can seem more ‘mature’, growing at a gentler rate. Tanker fleet capacity took almost 21 years to double to reach its current size of 540.9m dwt. In relative terms, the trade is indeed fairly mature, with average growth in volumes of 2.2% per annum over the last 20 years in combined crude and products trade. But interestingly, this is a sector now seeing rapid capacity growth, with an uptick in trade growth in recent years driving tanker ordering. In the last 19 months tanker fleet capacity has grown by 6.5%.

Bulk Bulge

However, the bulkcarrier fleet comfortably illustrates that the boxship sector has not been alone in experiencing rocketing growth. Although the vessels themselves may not have seen the same upsizing as boxships, bulker capacity expansion has been extraordinarily fast in recent times. Astonishingly, it took just 8.6 years from January 2008 to double to its current capacity of 784.1m dwt (though it had taken around 21 years before that to double previously). Nevertheless, bulker capacity expansion has slowed now, as dry bulk trade growth has hit the buffers.

Boom Time

So, the latest instance of a rapid doubling of fleet capacity is not a one-off. The explosion of boxship capacity has indeed been rapid, but in a world where shipbuilding output was hitting all-time highs not long ago, such growth has been a wider phenomenon. The overall world fleet has increased by 55% in dwt terms in the period since the onset of the global financial crisis in September 2008 alone. That’s a robust compound annual growth rate of 5.1%! Have a nice day, Einstein!

SIW1236 Graph of the Week

This week, containership fleet capacity has passed the 20 million TEU mark, another milestone in the rapid rise to prominence of the sector. Down the years, much of the capacity expansion has been driven by the delivery of larger and larger units at the big end of the fleet. However, the important role that smaller ‘feeder’ ships play in the container shipping network should never be overlooked.

Little And Large

Investment in containership newbuildings this year so far looks very different to the pattern seen in 2015. There was very limited investment in new boxships in 1H 2016, with just 75,000 TEU of capacity ordered compared to 2.2 million TEU in full year 2015. 1H 2016 saw 36 units contracted, and all were 3,300 TEU or below in size. This follows 104 orders for units below 3,000 TEU (‘Feeders’) in 2013, 85 in 2014 and 94 in 2015. This represents a limited, but steady flow of orders for small containerships, but, as the graph shows, the main focus in recent times has been elsewhere (especially in capacity terms). Only with a hiatus in the ordering of larger ships does the feeder element look particularly pronounced.

However, to casual observers, investment in feeder capacity might seem obviously warranted. The global liner network requires the integration of ships of all sizes, and clearly the focus of investment in recent years has been the big ships. Over 80% of capacity ordered since start 2010 has been for ships 8,000 TEU and above. But in reality it maybe hasn’t been hard to see why there has been a limited focus on investment in small and medium sized containerships. Timecharter earnings for smaller ships have languished at bottom of the cycle levels; the one year rate for a 1,700 TEU unit has averaged just $6,215/day since the end of 2008.

What’s Required?

Nevertheless, there appear to be clear drivers for future requirements. The orderbook below 3,000 TEU is limited, equivalent to 10% of fleet capacity compared to 33% above 8,000 TEU, and modern units are scarce. Demolition has picked up pace; 724 boxships have been sold for scrap since start 2012, about 70% of them below 3,000 TEU. And the feeder fleet has largely been shrinking since 2H 2011, with capacity below 3,000 TEU expected to see no real growth this year or next. Furthermore there are limits to network flexibility and the further cascading of larger ships into the feeder arena. The share of intra-regional deployment accounted for by ships 3,000 TEU and above has been fairly flat at just below 30% for some time. If extra intra-regional capacity is needed, that’s likely to mean demand for smaller units.

More On The Way?

So, it’s a broad landscape, and many market players foresee the likelihood of further activity in the feeder sector. Expectations remain of further limits to cascading and improved intra-regional trade growth (about 4% projected for intra-Asia in full year 2016). Improved charter rates, attractive pricing and available finance would help the investment case further, but the fundamentals for future requirement look supportive. Additional ordering has been on the agenda for a long while but things have taken their time. But in the box sector, sometimes the best things do (eventually) come in small packages.


With seaborne transportation accounting for the vast majority of the world’s international trade, the importance of the shipping industry to the mechanics of the world economy is generally fairly evident. But putting it into context in actual annual value terms, how does the magnitude of the shipping business compare to the size of some of the world’s economies?

Big Traders

There are a number of ways to attempt to put the annual impact of the shipping industry into the context of the wider world economy. One is to examine the value of seaborne trades. Seaborne iron ore trade totalled 1.3bn tonnes in 2015. At an annual average ore price of around $50/t, that equates to a value of $68bn. That’s about the size of the GDP of Kenya. However, that’s dwarfed by seaborne crude oil trade. At 37.4m bpd last year, at an average oil price of around $52/bbl, that’s an annual value of $717bn, almost equivalent to the GDP of Turkey (the world’s 18th largest economy). On the container side, taking port handling as an interesting metric, last year there were an estimated 664m TEU lifts at the world’s box ports. Average handling charges vary significantly, but if they worked out at $150/TEU that’s an economy of just under $100bn, almost the size of the GDP of Angola.

Of course the value of global seaborne trade must be huge. The WTO estimates the value of all global trade at $16.5 trillion, and almost 85% by volume moves by sea. Seaborne trade is probably a little skewed to relatively cheaper goods but even allowing for, say, 50% of the total value, that’s still over $8 trillion, heading towards the size of China’s economy!

Adding The Value

Another way to put shipping’s magnitude into context is to take a look at the value of the assets. Between 2007 and 2015 the average annual level of investment in newbuildings was $127bn. That’s bigger than the GDP of Hungary. Alternatively, taking the value of the fleet today, $904bn, and allowing for, say, another 15 years of trading (the average age by tonnage is around 10 years), would equate to a per annum value of $60bn, still bigger than the economy of Panama.

Call In The Revenue

But perhaps the clearest way to mirror GDP is to check the annual earnings of the vessels, just as GDP measures economic production. In 2016’s challenging market conditions, the ClarkSea Index has averaged $9,733/day (which would total aggregate earnings of $77bn in a full year across the c.22,000 vessels in the main volume sectors), but back in 2007 it averaged over $33,060/day (across over 15,600 vessels). Across a year that’s earnings of $189bn. Almost as big as the economy of shipping’s favourite investor nation, Greece!

A Big Whole

Shipping is just one of a wide range of economic activities on the planet. Sometimes its impact can be hard to put into context. But in terms of ‘economic magnitude’, elements of the shipping industry can be as big as the whole of one of the world’s larger economies, especially in a good year. Have a nice day!

SIW1231 Graph of the Week

Down the years, shipbuilders have always entered and exited the business as cycles have progressed, but over the past decade developments have been dramatic. Back in 2007, 220 shipyards secured at least one order for a unit of 20,000 dwt or above in size, but in 2015 just 101 yards were successful in doing so. What have been the characteristics of such acute changes in the shipbuilding landscape?

Following The Plot

 ‘Fatal Attraction’ was an 1980s thriller movie in which a weekend affair resulted in a tricky predicament. Having had its fling with investors, it could be said that the shipbuilding industry has also found itself in severe distress. At the climax of the newbuilding investment boom in 2007, 220 yards took an order (for a vessel of 20,000 dwt or above), up 80% on the number in 2005. However, the global economic downturn ended the ‘affair’ and the number of yards to take an order fell 45% in 2009. Chinese state subsidies reignited old flames in 2010, when 190 yards attracted an order (62% were located in China) and countercyclical ordering helped support around 130 yards in 2013 and 2014, but the general trend has been a steady fall in the number of shipyards successful in attracting orders in the recent investment environment.

Character Development

In 2015, 1,083 orders (20,000 dwt and above) were placed at 101 yards globally, and of the yards who took an order in 2007, only 80 (36% of the total) were successful in doing so last year. Shipbuilders who ‘left the scene’ in this period included many Chinese yards (87), generally focussed on the bulker sector, as well as a number of European yards (17) finally ceding to Asian competition.

The solid line on the graph represents the number of yards taking 20 or more orders each year. This number has fluctuated less than the total number of yards taking orders, reflecting the more consistent part of the industry, including established Korean yards and ‘top tier’ Chinese state yards (27 different yards have appeared in this grouping since 2010). The dotted line shows yards who have received five or less orders each year, and reflects the more vulnerable end of the business, making up 51% of yards who took an order in 2007, but accounting for an average of 37% of the total between 2013 and 2015. 62% of yards in this grouping who took a contract in 2007 have not received an order since 2012.

No Alternate Ending?

On a more positive note, despite the fall in the number of yards to take a contract in 2015, six of the 18 yards to take 20 or more orders took their largest number of contracts since 2007 last year. For the first time this decade the largest number of these yards were in Japan (7).

Nevertheless, the environment clearly remains severely challenging. In 1H 2016, 97 orders were reported placed (for units 20,000 dwt or above) across just 27 yards. Though there may be some late reporting, and optimism from some quarters that 2H 2016 could see increased contract volumes, changes to the industry landscape appear to have been stark (and for some ‘fatal’). Over the second half of this year, market observers should continue to watch the drama closely