Archives for posts with tag: economic growth

New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup victory has further cemented the now long-held dominance of the All Blacks in international rugby. But the performance of the European nations in this year’s World Cup was disappointing, and over the long-term in shipping too, focus has gradually shifted from Europe to the other side of the world, with Asia the increasingly dominant player in many parts of the maritime industry.

Another Round Kicks Off

The rise of Asia and especially China as key drivers of seaborne trade growth has over recent decades turned maritime eyes increasingly eastwards. Across many aspects of the shipping industry, Asia has consistently been moving up the league tables, but having slipped behind in the game, how does Europe’s position look now?

A look at overall economic performance suggests not. EU GDP growth is certainly improving after falling to -0.4% in 2012 (see graph), partly owing to low oil prices and the weak euro. But this recovery is far from convincing – growth is expected to remain below 2% this year. As a team performance, the overall impression of regional growth is one of distinct patchiness, with a weak showing in Greece and in countries exposed to difficulties in Russia partly offsetting improved displays in others such as France, Italy and Spain.

Trade Struggles To Convert

The implication of these trends on seaborne trade is similarly mixed. After notably firmer volumes in 2014, European container imports have slowed in the year to date, with volumes on the Far East-Europe route down 5%. Imports even into countries showing improved economic growth this year have declined. Asia remains the focus of box trade expansion, with Europe’s share of global imports set to fall below 14% this year.

In the dry bulk sector, China’s leap up the leaderboard has squeezed the share of EU imports in global iron ore and coal trade to 12% last year. China’s dry bulk imports are now coming under pressure, but the EU has been unable to claw back lost ground. However, in the crude oil trade, Europe has stubbornly stayed in the game, keeping a share of around 24% in global crude trade since 2010. With EU imports set to grow 8% this year, 2015 could see the EU drive a greater share of crude trade growth than China for only the second time since 2005.

Tackling The Leader

Moreover, an apparent bounce-back is currently being seen in fleet ownership. Asia’s rapidly growing fleet had reduced the share of EU owners in the world fleet to 35.5% in 2013 (see inset graph). However, a 15% expansion in the Greek-owned fleet since start 2014 has helped the EU to begin to even out the scoreline, and the EU’s share of the world fleet is now rising for the first time since 2008.

But No Turnover

So, some elements of European shipping now seem to be driving forward. But economic difficulties linger on, and in reality improvements have generally been only limited in scope. For now, just as the All Blacks must be feeling secure at the top, in the world of shipping Team Asia still seems well ahead of the European pack.

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The car carrier sector has for some time been seen as one of the fastest growing parts of world shipping. Rapidly growing seaborne trade volumes have driven the requirement for a robustly expanding supply of vessels at the large end of the car carrier fleet. But it hasn’t always been a smooth ride, and today it’s not clear whether the sector has enough drive to remain in the fast lane.

In The Fast Lane

In the period from 1996 to 2007, seaborne trade in cars expanded from an estimated 8.1 million to 22.5 million units, growing by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7%. This compares very favourably to almost any other part of world seaborne trade. Overall seaborne trade registered a CAGR of 4.0% over the same period.

Fittingly for the car sector, there have been a range of drivers. New centres of car production have emerged (particularly in the developing world), broadening the global network of seaborne car transportation, in some cases extending the average haul as well as increasing trade volumes. Meanwhile, new car consumers have been generated by economic growth in developing economies, particularly in Asia. In China, for instance, European cars prove popular driving long-haul car trade. Since 1996 Asian car imports have expanded by an estimated 287% (and exports from Japan, Korea and China by 97%).

Brakes Off…And On

The PCC (Pure Car Carrier, including Pure Car & Truck Carrier) fleet has responded eagerly to the challenge. The fleet has grown from an overall capacity of 1.35m vehicles at end 1996 to 3.76m vehicles today, total expansion of 175%. Today, there are 768 car carriers in the fleet, and 569 of them have capacity of 4,000 cars or more (74% of the fleet) with another 62 on order (55 above 4,000 cars). The average vessel size has jumped from 3,380 car units at end 1996 to 6,810 today.

So far so good, until the downturn when seaborne car trade really suffered. Volumes fell by 35% in 2009 (compared to 4% for seaborne trade as a whole) as western car buyers pulled on the handbrake. Since then volume growth has not been quite so speedy. 2010 saw a partial bounceback but growth of 5-7% in 2011-13, has been followed by a projected 2% this year, on the back of relocation of production limiting export growth from key exporters, new tax legislation in importing regions, sluggish European recovery and political disruption in several emerging importer nations. This has left a question mark over when growth might get back into top gear.

The Road Ahead

Still, PCC capacity growth for the next few years looks fairly moderate with the orderbook standing at 11% of the fleet. Trade is provisionally projected to grow by 5% in 2015, making up for some of the shortfall this year. But the bigger question is whether we can expect trade growth to maintain the robust levels seen historically in the longer term. Perhaps the road ahead isn’t as clear as it once was? Each year, in our Car Carrier Trade & Transport report, we look at the trends in detail, and this year’s report will be available on Shipping Intelligence Network in the next few weeks. Have a nice day.

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