Archives for posts with tag: lng

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the very first edition of Shipping Intelligence Weekly. So, this week we take a look back to 1992 and compare the shipping industry then to its profile today. If this reveals anything it’s that whilst many things change dramatically, in an industry like this some things don’t appear to change too much at all…


Wonderful World Of Trade

Seaborne trade provides the platform upon which the shipping industry operates. Back in 1992 world seaborne trade stood at an estimated 4.6 billion tonnes and in comparison current projections suggest that in 2017 it will reach 11.3 billion tonnes. That’s 2.5 times bigger than 25 years ago (see table). Iron ore trade is projected to be 4.3 times larger than back in 1992, LNG trade 4.5 times larger and container trade a mighty 6.3 times more voluminous. The 2017 seaborne trade estimate represents about 1.5 tonnes per person on the planet. That’s quite some performance all round and keeps the world of shipping turning.

My How Big You’ve Grown

Meanwhile, shipping capacity has also expanded equally rapidly. The fleet has grown by a multiple a little greater than that registered by trade over the 25 year period. At the start of 2017 the global fleet totalled 1.86 billion dwt compared to 621 million dwt at the start of 1992. That’s a multiple of 3.0 times larger. Of course, over the period there have been changes to vessel productivity, not in the least the moderation of service speeds in many sectors in the post-Lehman downturn.

What Things Cost These Days

Alongside these significant changes, the value of shipping assets has seen more mixed trends. A 5 year old VLCC was 8% cheaper at the start of 2017 (in current terms) than at the start of 1992 but such is the state of play in the bulkcarrier market that a 5 year old Capesize is 43% cheaper. Adjust these for inflation and the values look even lower. On the other hand the scrap value of ships is higher than in 1992 on the back of an 81% higher $/ldt ship steel scrap price.

Economic Activity

Despite the recent commodity price downturn, raw materials overall are substantially more expensive than back in 1992.  Brent crude stood at $54.8/bbl at the start of 2017 compared to $18.2/bbl in early 1992 and iron ore at $76.3/tonne compared to $33.1/tonne. Bunker prices (380cst Rotterdam) have increased from $69.0/tonne to $312.5/tonne.

Elsewhere only $1.24 of shipping’s universal currency is now needed to buy one pound sterling, compared to $1.83 back in 1992, but USD borrowing (6-month LIBOR) is much less dear at 1.3% rather than 4.2%. The world economy is still growing more quickly than back in 1992, projected at 3.4% in 2017 compared to 2.3%, and is over 3 times bigger at about $79 trillion. The size of the Chinese economy has rocketed from $0.5 trillion to $12.4 trillion, and the world’s population has expanded from 5.5 to 7.4 billion.

Nothing Changes?

Last of all, some things never seem to change. At the start of 1992 the ClarkSea Index of vessel earnings stood at $11,700/day. At the start of 2017 it stood just 5.2% lower at a remarkably similar $11,092/day. In between the index once tipped over $50,000/day; that’s a cyclical business for you! Now let’s see what changes the next 25 years throw up. Many happy returns SIW!

Back in the past the gas shipping sectors may have been considered relatively niche within the world of global shipping. However, in the last two decades they have been amongst the faster growing parts of the industry. This week’s Analysis takes a look at how shipping’s ‘coolest’ sector has grown in prominence to become part of the mainstream, and some of the ups and downs along the way.

Keeping Cool

Gas (LNG and LPG) shipping may once have been considered by some as a relatively niche part of global shipping, with the fleet and trade volumes dwarfed by other sectors. Even today, LNG and LPG carriers account for just 5% of total world fleet GT, and LNG and LPG trade accounted for just 3% of global seaborne volumes in 2015. However, following phases of rapid fleet growth, the combined gas carrier fleet now stands poised to top 100 million cbm of gas carrying capacity next year, more than double the size of the fleet at the end of 2007.

Gas Expands

Following expansion in LNG trade in the late 1990s, in the mid-2000s a glut of new export terminal sanctioning led to a surge in LNG carrier contracting, peaking at 10.9m cbm in 2004. This supported average fleet growth of 15% p.a. in the period 2000-08, to 40.3m cbm at the end of 2008. In comparison the LPG carrier fleet grew more steadily, though trade growth was supported by increased export volumes from the Middle East and Europe. Between 2000 and 2008, LPG carrier capacity increased from 13m cbm to 18m cbm, at an average rate of growth of 4% p.a. Across this period combined gas carrier capacity grew by an average of 10% p.a. to total 58.2m cbm by the end of 2008. However, after the economic downturn, sanctioning of liquefaction projects slowed, which limited LNG fleet growth, and growth in the LPG sector slowed too. Between 2008 and 2014, combined gas carrier fleet capacity grew by a much less rapid 6% p.a. on average, with even slower growth in 2011-12.

Powering On

Nevertheless, since the start of 2015 it has been full steam ahead for the gas carrier fleet. With LNG carrier ordering backed by the return to liquefaction terminal sanctioning in the 2010s and the vision of a cleaner energy future, and LPG carrier demand supported by the advent of fracking in the US and refinery capacity expansion elsewhere, 26.1m cbm of combined gas carrier capacity was ordered in 2013-15. This has supported rapid fleet growth in recent years and since the end of 2014, LPG carrier fleet capacity has grown by 32% and LNG carrier fleet capacity by 12%.

Mainstream Profile

So, the gas sector’s profile is fully in the mainstream today, and despite it’s relatively limited share of the world’s tonnage and global seaborne trade, in other ways it accounts for rather more weight. Gas carriers are complex, high value units; they account for 15% of the shipyard orderbook in CGT (shipyard work) terms today, and for an estimated value of $78bn, 9% of the world fleet total. And with a 20-year compound annual growth rate of 8% in combined capacity, and the 100 million cbm mark just around the corner, surely that’s one of modern shipping’s success stories? Have a nice day.

SIW1241 Graph of the Week

Energy is shipping’s biggest single market, accounting for 43% of the cargo moved in 2013 – 4.3 billion tonnes. Oil is still the big dog, with 2.8 billion tonnes of cargo and the coal trade has now reached 1.2 billion tonnes. Which leaves gas as the junior partner in the energy triangle with 307 million tonnes of trade in 2013, of which 244 million tonnes was LNG and an estimated 63 million tonnes was LPG.

The Crown Prince Of Energy

LNG may still be the junior partner in tonnage, but it is widely seen as a future “seed corn” trade for the maritime business. This positive perception rests on two foundations. Firstly there are enormous reserves of “stranded” natural gas located so far from the world’s major consumer zones that sea transport is the only way to bring the product to market. Secondly natural gas is a clean fuel, in an era which is becoming increasingly preoccupied with reducing emissions of carbon and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Fight For The Title

But it’s not all plain sailing and LNG is up against some tough competition – coal and oil – and in the three way fight for market share which lies ahead it has a few strategic disadvantages. Oil, the ultimate portable energy source, has the land and air transport fuel market nailed down. In this market the need to maintain LNG at a temperature of -162°C makes competition extremely difficult, and creates limitations to the wider use of LNG as a transport fuel.

The other major market is power generation and here LNG is on firmer ground. Once the storage and re-gasification facilities have been installed, LNG is the ideal clean fuel. The problem is that in this market coal is a long established and devastating competitor. Coal is generally much cheaper than gas and more widely available. In contrast gas supplies are more limited, requiring major investment, and are often located in “difficult” geopolitical areas.

Speedy Growth

Despite these disadvantages, the LNG trade has turned in a spritely growth performance. Since 1984 imports by countries east of Suez have grown by a CAGR of 5.8%, and by 6.5% west of Suez (despite a slowdown in 2012-13). Compared with the growth of the oil trade when it developed more than a century ago, this is super-fast. 44 years since the first LNG shipment by sea to Asia, global trade in 2013 reached 532m cbm, or 244m tonnes, with a fleet of 31m dwt. For comparison, after 44 years seaborne oil trade only reached 55m tonnes and the tanker fleet was just 9.5m dwt (in 1928). This is a reminder that although LNG has not been an easy ride, things take time and LNG’s growth path is pretty dynamic (though not without its problems – in the 1980s one third of the fleet was laid up).

Trending But Tricky

If current growth trends continue, LNG trade could reach one billion tonnes in the 2030s. It is easy to believe that there will be demand in an energy hungry world for this clean fuel, despite its limitations. But in the meantime LNG is a niche player, trading luxury fuel to price sensitive markets. Which makes it tricky, even for the big boys. Have a nice day.


While the expanding role of Asia (especially China, see SIW 1132) in seaborne trade has grabbed headlines in recent years, developments in the US, still the world’s largest economy, have also had a significant impact. In a short space of time, changes in the US energy sector have dramatically altered global trading patterns in a number of commodities, significantly impacting the pattern of volume growth.

Putting On A Spurt Of Energy

For much of the last three decades, US oil production has been in decline, falling on average by 1% a year since 1980 to a low of 6.8m bpd in 2008. Yet technological advances have since led to huge gains in exploitation of ‘unconventional’ oil and gas shale reserves. In the space of just six years, the US managed to raise oil output alone by an astonishing 60% to almost 11m bpd, a new record.

Making An Oil Change

This has led to huge changes in US energy usage and import requirements. Crude oil imports have almost halved since 2005, and since 2010 have fallen on average by 11% p.a. to 260mt last year. Exports of crude oil from West Africa in particular have had to find a home elsewhere (unsurprisingly, many shipments now go East). Since US crude exports are still banned, US refiners have taken advantage of greater domestic crude supply to produce high volumes of oil products, especially for shipment to Latin America and Europe. Lower US oil demand since the economic downturn has also contributed, and seaborne product exports reached 120mt in 2013, up from 70mt in 2009. Alongside global shifts in the location of refinery capacity and oil demand growth, these trends have transformed seaborne oil trade patterns.

The impact could be similarly profound in the gas sector. As US imports of gas, mostly LNG, have dropped (on average by 34% per year since 2010), plans to add up to nearly 100mtpa of liquefaction capacity by 2020 could mean the US eventually emerges as a major LNG exporter, potentially accounting for 15% of global capacity (from 0.5% currently). Meanwhile, LPG shipments are continuing to accelerate strongly, rising by more than 60% y-o-y so far in 2014 to 6mt.

Miners Under Pressure

There has also been an impact in the dry bulk sector. Lower domestic gas prices have pushed the share of coal in US energy use to below 20%, leaving miners with excess coal supplies. US steam coal exports jumped to 48mt in 2012 from 11mt in 2009, contributing to lower global coal prices (cutting mining margins) and higher Asian import demand.

So What Next?

So the effects of the changing balance in the US energy sector have been far-reaching, and there remains scope for more shifts to occur as trade patterns continue to adjust to changes in commodity supply and prices. While the firm pace of expansion in US oil and gas output may start to slow, any change to existing export policies could have further impact. What is clear already, in terms of seaborne trade growth, is that the focus has shifted away from US imports, for decades a key driver of the expansion of global volumes, towards the country’s developing role as an energy exporter.


SIW1113Every so often we reach milestones in shipping that are worth pausing to celebrate and in 2014 the industry will achieve the no mean feat of moving 10 billion tonnes of international seaborne trade across the world’s open seas. Our Graph of the Week illustrates the strong growth of the past thirty years, with trade doubling since 1995 and tripling since 1984. The graph also highlights another industry milestone reached back in 2002, when the world fleet first transported more than one tonne per person globally. With China fuelling growth (it is estimated that at least half of the 4bn tonnes added since was China-related), this ratio has surged to the current figure of 1.4 tonnes per person.

Winners & Losers

So what are the “winners” and “losers” in the period between our two trade “milestones”? Reminding us that it has been very much at the heart of globalisation and a strong growth story despite its current travails, container trade leads the way contributing nearly a quarter of all growth with 931m tonnes. Iron ore, with 815m tonnes, and coal with 605m tonnes, are less of a surprise (with Capesizes the main beneficiary) and indeed over 50% of all trade growth was dry bulk related. Elsewhere there have been good contributions from steel products, grain, oil products and LNG. Crude oil has been disappointing however with growth of only 250m tonnes over the period and its share of trade dropping to 18%. A few trades have shown no growth at all over the period, for example phosphate rock, with fertiliser processing increasingly taking place at source.


Trade forecasters have been caught out more than a few times in recent years with major surprises in each of the key markets. Back in 2002, general consensus on China grossly underestimated the development of the steel industry and related import levels, while the turnaround in the US energy balance has been just as surprising and is significantly impacting the oil and gas trades. Container trade meanwhile generally grew (prior to 2009) at a few % points higher than the long term forecasts from the early 2000s. Throw in the financial crisis, when trade contracted for the first time since 1983, as a further challenge.

Another Ten Billion?

So where next for trade? In the 1980s growth was a sluggish 1%, before more encouraging growth of 4% in the 1990s and again in the 2000s. Some things seem more predictable – it’s difficult to look past China, India and Other Asia providing the majority of regional growth in the medium term, while most observers would expect gas to grow above trend – but other issues are far more uncertain. At 4% growth (a number we don’t feel is unreasonable for scenario planning on the basis of continued globalisation) we reach 15 billion tonnes by 2024 and 20 billion tonnes by 2031. Of course with shipping moving 90% of all global trade, the physical world rarely plays out like a smooth line on a graph and it’s the “wildcards” that often have the largest impact!