Archives for posts with tag: containership

In recent years, in generally difficult market conditions, it has been no surprise that many sectors have seen a significant removal of surplus tonnage. This has been particularly notable in the bulkcarrier and containership sectors, and in the case of the Capesizes and the ‘Old Panamax’ boxships, it has been a bit like the famous race between the tortoise and the hare but with even more changes in leadership…

At The Start

Back in 2012, Capesize demolition was on the up with the market having softened substantially in 2011 on the back of elevated levels of deliveries. Meanwhile, ‘Old Panamax’ containership demolition (let’s simply call them Panamaxes here) was also on the rise with earnings under pressure. Across full year 2012, 4.7% of the start year Capesize fleet was sold for scrap (11.7m dwt) and 2.6% of the Panamax boxship fleet (0.10m TEU). In both cases this was working from the base of a fairly young fleet, with an average age at start 2012 of 8.2 years for the Capes and 8.9 years for the Panamax boxships.

The cumulative volume, as a share of start 2012 capacity, of Capesize demolition remained ahead of Panamax boxship scrapping until Sep-13, by which time 7.3% of the start 2012 Panamax boxship fleet had been demolished compared to 7.2% of the Capesize fleet. In 2013 the Cape market improved with increased iron ore trade growth whilst the boxship charter market remained in the doldrums. In 2013, Cape scrapping equated to 3.2% of the start 2012 fleet (7.9m dwt); the figure for Panamax boxships was 6.0% (0.24m TEU). The fast starter had been caught by the slow burner.

Hare Today…

But by 2015, Cape scrapping was surging once more, regaining the lead from the Panamax boxships. By May-15 the cumulative share of the start 2012 fleet scrapped in the Capesize sector was 13.7% compared to 13.4% for the Panamax boxships. Iron ore trade growth slowed dramatically in 2015, whilst the Panamaxes appeared to be enjoying a resurgence with improved earnings in the first half of the year ensuing from fresh intra-regional trading opportunities.

…Gone Tomorrow

But the result of the race was still not yet clear. Today the Panamaxes are back in front again, thanks to record levels of boxship scrapping in 2016, including 71 Panamaxes (0.30m TEU) on the back of falling earnings, ongoing financial distress and the threat of obsolescence from the new locks in Panama. Despite a huge run of Capesize scrapping in Q1 2016 (7.5m dwt), the cumulative figure today for Capes stands at 22.3% of start 2012 capacity, compared to 25.4% for Panamax boxships, remarkably similar levels.

Where’s The Line?

So, today the old Panamax boxships are back in the lead, but who knows how the great race will end? Capesize recycling has slowed with improved markets, but Panamax boxships have seen some upside too, even if the future looks very uncertain. Hopefully they’ll both get there in the end but no-one really knows where the finish actually is. That’s one thing even the tortoise and the hare didn’t have to contend with. 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

Eight years ago, the onset of the financial crisis following the demise of Lehman Brothers heralded a generally highly challenging time for many of the shipping markets, which today remain under severe pressure. But even within the relatively short period of history since then, different sectors have fared better or worse at various points along the way. This week’s Analysis examines the cumulative impact…

What Was The Best Bet?

So how would a vessel delivered into the eye of the financial storm in late 2008 have fared? The Graph of the Week compares the performance of three standard vessel types. It shows the monthly development of cumulative earnings after OPEX from October 2008 onwards for a Capesize bulkcarrier, an Aframax tanker and a 2,750 TEU containership.

A Capesize trading at average spot earnings would have generated around $37m in total, benefitting from market spikes in 2009-10 and 2013. But with Capesize spot earnings hovering near OPEX in recent times, the cumulative earnings have not increased much since mid-2014. For a hypothetical vessel delivered in October 2008 (and ordered at the average 2006 newbuild price of $63m) those earnings would equate to close to 60% of the contract price (note that if the vessel was sold today, this would result in a net loss of c. $8m, taking into account the earnings after OPEX, newbuild cost and sales income but not finance costs).

Totting Up Tanker Takings

By contrast, Aframax tanker earnings hovered close to OPEX for several years after the downturn, with far fewer spikes than in the bulker sector. However, the 2014-15 rally in the tanker market allowed the Aframax to start playing catch-up, and cumulative Aframax earnings between October 2008 and September 2016 reached around $31m. This represents around 50% of the value of a newbuild delivered in 2008 (with a newbuild price at the 2006 average of $63m), not too far from the ratio for the Capesize.

Bad News For Box Backers

Containerships haven’t really seen similar spikes, with the charter market largely rooted at depressed bottom of the cycle levels since 2008, battling with a huge surplus created by falling consumer demand and box trade in the immediate aftermath of the crash. With earnings close to operating costs for much of the period, a 2,750 TEU unit generated cumulative earnings after OPEX of just $6m from October 2008, around 10% of the average newbuild price in 2006 ($50m). The timecharter nature of the boxship business would also have potentially reduced owners’ upside when improved rates were on offer, and there was an ongoing chunk of capacity idle too.

The Stakes Are Still High

So, despite persisting challenging conditions overall, some of the shipping markets have seen significant ups and downs since 2008. Though boxships have seen limited income, interestingly similarly priced tanker and bulker newbuilds delivered heading into the downturn might have offered roughly comparable accumulated returns on the outlay. With conditions currently weak across most sectors, owners today would surely love to see any form of accumulation again.


Shipping is a cyclical business. For many years, Clarksons Research has tracked the ups and downs of its cycles via the ClarkSea Index, a weighted average of vessel earnings in the main shipping sectors.  In the first half of August, the index averaged less than $7,500/day, around 60% down on July 2015’s ‘mini-peak’, with most sectors having weakened. But how long should one expect a downturn to last?


As summer 2016 has progressed, owners could be forgiven an element of downturn fatigue. Average bulkcarrier earnings from January to July 2016 were 21% down year-on-year, whilst the equivalent containership index fell by 37%. Average weighted LPG carrier earnings lost 49%. Even the tanker sector, which had been buoyed by lower oil prices stimulating demand, was down by 35% in terms of its component element of the ClarkSea Index. Both crude and product tanker earnings levels have softened over the course of Q2 2016.

Nor is the decline restricted to the major sectors. Offshore drilling rig dayrates are down by a further 30% or so year-on-year, and OSV term rates about the same amount. LNG carrier spot charter rates are 24% lower. Multi-purpose vessel charter rates have also come under further pressure. Amongst the few areas to have shown signs of improvement have been the ro-ro and ferry markets, but these are far from volume sectors.


So, the industry is undergoing a downturn, and it would be reasonable to ask: how long might the pain last for? Clearly, there are external macro-economic factors, such as the policies of the Chinese state, actions by OPEC or the effects of the Brexit decision, which might have specific influences on the future. However, perhaps past cycles could provide an indication. As the graph shows, the progress of the current weaker market has followed the trend of some previous downward moves – with the clear exception of the 2008-09 crash.

…And Emotional

The graph shows that, over the last 25 years, major downward movements in the ClarkSea Index have tended to begin to be reversed around a year to eighteen months after they began. Of course, the picture is complicated by seasonal factors. Additionally, a “dead-cat bounce” is also never off the cards: for example, the first signs of recovery in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. This improvement, between the one and two year marks on the graph, was quickly snuffed out, partly by the heavy ordering of bulkcarriers, helping to prevent a continued recovery along a similar trajectory to previous cycles.

In 2016, the market has probably learnt this lesson, with newbuild ordering numbers lower than at any point in the last two decades. Other actions are also being taken to try to turn the market balance around: ‘non-delivery’ of newbuild tonnage in the first seven months stands at 45%, whilst owners scrapped 30.2m dwt, 33% up when annualised with potential to get close to the record of 58.4m dwt set in 2012. So, it is possible that the index may follow previous trends, and begin to reverse course. But as well as a more controlled supply side, short-term demand will also help determine whether the market stalls, or can embark on the road to recovery. Have a nice holiday.

SIW1235 Graph of the Week

In the nativity story, the three ‘Wise Men’ each come bearing a gift for the baby Jesus. Today, gifts are more likely to have been transported by containership than by camel, but the boxship market itself has still been subject to a number of demand-side ‘humps’ this year. Unwrapping these trends suggests three rather unwelcome ‘gifts’ that the containership market has received in 2015.

Gifts From The East

Prior to the last 7 years, container trade growth had been rapid, averaging 9.6% per annum in 1996 to 2007 – an astonishing performance given the average 4.1% per annum expansion in global seaborne trade in the same period. Box trade flourished, as further cargoes were containerised and manufacturing was rapidly outsourced from the west to Asia (particularly in the 2000s). Container shipping became the planet’s chosen (low cost) way for moving general cargo around. The first major blip in the story was in 2009, when box trade fell for the first time in the history of containerisation, dropping 10% on the back of the global economic downturn. 2015 currently looks set to be the worst year since then, with trade growth expected to reach just 2.5%.

Hardly Gold

Three key factors have driven slower trade growth this year. The first is the contraction of the key Far East-Europe trade, reflecting a combination of the weak euro, continued challenging economic conditions in some European nations, and a stark fall in Russian volumes. It seems that this year has also seen some inventory de-stocking, bolstering the downward trend. Peak leg Far East-Europe trade is projected to drop by 3.8% in 2015, limiting total expansion in mainlane trade to around 0.4% this year.

The second factor has been the slowdown in the estimated rate of growth in intra-Asian volumes. This is an important bloc of container trade (around 50m teu) and has been one of the fastest growing parts in recent years. This year, the turbulence and slowing rate of growth in the Chinese economy, combined with issues in other Asian economies, has seen the estimated rate of intra-Asian growth slow in 2015, with total intra-regional trade now projected to grow by 3.6% this year, down from 6.0% in 2014.

Looking Myrrh-ky

Thirdly, the collapse in commodity prices, including crude oil, has had a heavily deleterious impact on box volumes into economies particularly dependent on commodity exports for income. Notably, growth in box imports into economies in Africa and South America have slowed, and total North-South trade is now expected to grow by only 1.8% this year, whilst Middle Eastern imports are also coming under pressure.

Frankly Incensed

So the world of container trade has indeed received three ‘gifts’ this year, but the outcome for containership demand has not been a joyful story. The Christmas season is usually prime time for thoughts of presents shipped by container around the world, but it seems that the boxship sector may have to wait beyond this year’s festivities to find a brighter-looking star on the horizon.