Archives for posts with tag: global steel industry

Marvel’s Iron Man, as depicted in the 2008 film, features industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark creating a powered suit, later perfecting its design and fighting evil. While it was a gold titanium alloy rather than iron which was used to make the futuristic armour, iron-based materials such as steel are used incredibly widely in the world’s industries today, with clear implications for shipping too.

Steel At The Heart

The strength of Iron Man’s suit was what helped turn Tony Stark into a superhero. The versatility and strength of steel has made it today’s most important construction material, with 1.6 billion tonnes of steel produced last year. Over recent decades, steel became one of shipping’s superheroes, with the unprecedented growth in Chinese steel production leading to a doubling of global steel output between 2000 and 2014, and helping to underpin the biggest shipping market boom in history. Growth in China’s raw material demand was explosive, and by 2014, global seaborne iron ore and coking coal trade totalled 1.6 billion tonnes, one seventh of total seaborne trade.

A Dangerous Weapon

But even superheroes have weaknesses, and reaching new heights was problematic for Iron Man, when the build-up of ice on his suit at high altitudes brought him back down to earth with a bump. A distinct chill in the air has recently surrounded the steel industry too. Slower economic growth in China, which uses half of the world’s steel, led Chinese steel consumption to drop 5% in 2015, undermining steel prices. Difficult economic conditions elsewhere also limited steel use, with consumption in Latin America and the Middle East declining 7% and 1% respectively last year, and overall, global steel output fell 3%. Weaker demand for steelmaking materials was a key driver of the fall in seaborne dry bulk trade in 2015, despite a 20% surge in Chinese steel exports. The steel market remains challenging with world consumption expected to fall again in 2016, and dry bulk trade still lacks the power to boost the bulker markets back into higher altitudes.

In Need Of A Shield

Of course, steel also impacts the supply side of the shipping industry. In Iron Man’s final showdown with the ‘Iron Monger’, in the end it all comes down to a good design and precise timing, concepts close to any shipowner’s heart. As the very fabric of the ships themselves, steel is a key cost for shipbuilders, but volatile prices have just as big an impact at the older end of the market. With continued exports of surplus steel from China maintaining pressure on steel prices, there is limited light at the end of the tunnel for owners scrapping ships in difficult market conditions for values around 50% lower than just two years ago.

Iron World

So there you have it. An Iron Man with a will of iron can save the world, whilst steel can bring the world’s shipowners fortune and challenges in equal measure. Steel may no longer be the superhero of seaborne trade growth, but it is still the glue that quite literally holds the shipping industry together and keeps 11 billion tonnes a year of cargo afloat. Now that’s a superhuman effort. Have a nice day!

SIW1239 Graph of the Week

Bulkcarrier investors are generally an optimistic lot, with little time for pessimistic analysts. They know that however gloomy the forecasts, some time they will make a nice profit. After all, the ships last 30 years, especially small bulkers and a lot can happen in that time. But occasionally even they get gloomy and that seems to have happened today.

Bottom Fishing For A Bonus

It’s easy to see why. The Baltic Dry Index has hit all-time lows and Capesizes, which were supposed to be gold-plated investments in a world dominated by China, are looking decidedly tarnished. Nearly new ships have been chartering for well under $10,000/day and it’s been going on for a long time. These moments of deep negative sentiment are often a good time to invest, especially if finance is in short supply. It happened in 1986 when a new Panamax bulker cost $13.5m and a 5 year old ship cost $6m, and again in 1999 when new Panamax prices slumped below $20m and a 5 year old ship was sold for $13.5m. 10 years later these ships became profitable beyond the dreams of even the most optimistic investors, grossing over $100m in earnings and capital gains. Could this be another magic moment?

Gut-Based Gambling

Deep negative sentiment generally occurs when everything goes wrong at the same time. In the 1980s the world economy went into deep recession after the second oil crisis. Surplus bulker capacity was topped up by heavy deliveries, which the closure of shipyards did little to neutralise. Banks were too preoccupied with defaulting clients to consider new loans. In 1997-99 the Asia crisis, which coincided with a surge of deliveries after the brief 1995 bulker boom, left investors wondering if they would ever see light at the end of the tunnel. China was not even on the radar.

Today’s bulker outlook is also gloomy. The global steel industry is under immense pressure, and an increasing focus on clean energy is souring the outlook for coal consumption. Chinese dry bulk imports have dropped, and prospects for Indian coal imports have also worsened. So after a decade when seaborne dry bulk grew at nearly 200mt a year, in 2015 trade is set to decline. Meanwhile the surplus is being topped up by deliveries.

Searching For Silver

But there are a few positives. Cheap oil at $40/bbl is putting money in everyone’s pocket. Bulker ordering has slumped to 13m dwt this year; demolition is up 70%; fleet growth is down to 3%; and China seems keen on its ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, which could add to trade.

The Magic Number?

So there you have it. But there is one other interesting factor to consider. Somehow the tanker sector is generating very impressive earnings in a market which, on the basis of fundamental analysis, is also carrying surplus capacity. Slow steaming can help, and maybe that’s good advice. This may not be a magic moment like 1999, but, take it easy, keep your eyes open and maybe there’s a silver lining somewhere out there for the right ship. Have a nice day.

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