Archives for posts with tag: market conditions

The vast majority of the world’s trade in goods is moved by sea, and it has long been recognised how shipping is a critical element of the global economy, providing the connection between producers and consumers all over the planet. However, what is less frequently mentioned is the tremendous ‘value for money’ with which it does so; this is clearly worth a closer look…

Bargain Of The Century?

One US dollar doesn’t get you much in today’s world. On the basis of latest prices it would buy 0.025 grams of gold or 2% of a barrel of crude oil. Based on Walmart’s latest online pricing it would buy about half a litre of milk. That’s not a lot whichever way you look at it, in a world economy that is 75 trillion dollars large. But in shipping one dollar still gets you something very substantial. One way of looking at this is to take the movement of cargo in tonne-mile terms and divide it by the estimated value of the fleet. Here, to try to do this in like-for-like terms, the calculation includes crude and oil products, dry bulk, container and gas trade, and the ships that primarily carry those cargoes. On this basis, one dollar of ‘world fleet value’ at the start of May 2017 would have bought 110 tonne-miles in a year, based on 2017 trade projections. What an amazing bargain! One tonne of cargo moved more than 100 miles, per year, all for one little greenback!

What’s In A Number?

What drives this number? Well the essence of the value of course lies in the huge economies of scale generated by moving cargo by sea in vast quantities at one time over significant distances. The average haul of one tonne in the scope of the cargoes listed above is estimated at 5,016 miles and the average ship size at 58,706 dwt. Of course the amount of tonne-miles per dollar can vary over time, depending on changes in asset market conditions, the underlying cost and complexity of building ships and vessel productivity, speed and utilisation (rates of fleet and trade growth aren’t perfectly aligned most of the time). Across sectors the statistics can vary significantly too.

Buy In Bulk

One dollar of bulkcarrier and oil tanker tonnage accounts for 154 and 101 tonne-miles of trade per year respectively. For more complex, expensive ships the figure is lower: 20 for gas carriers. For boxships, despite their higher speed, the figure stands at 114. Vessel size (economies of scale in building) and cargo density (this analysis is in tonnes) play a role too in these relative statistics (which also don’t always capture the full range of cargo carried by each ship type).

Value For All Time

Nevertheless, whatever the precise numbers and changes over time, 110 tonne miles of trade each year for one dollar of asset expenditure just sounds like mighty good value at a time when a dollar doesn’t go very far. This underpins shipping’s ability to carry an estimated 84% of the world’s trade in tonnes and act as the glue holding the globalised economy together. Shipping’s famous volatility retains the ability to make and lose fortunes for asset players but the underlying economic contribution of each dollar invested may just be one of the greatest bargains of all time. Have a nice day.


With the ClarkSea Index around $9,000/day, and many if not most of the major shipping markets under severe pressure, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the shipping markets are a tough place right now, with limited pickings to share between owners. However, everything’s relative, and from one angle the size of the ‘pie’ might just be bigger than it seems…

How Big’s The Pie?

Last week the ClarkSea Index stood at $8,743/day, and during 2016 as a whole the index averaged $9,441/day, taking into account earnings in the tanker, bulkcarrier, gas carrier and containership sectors, across a selection of over 21,000 units at the start of the year. Estimating the aggregate annual earnings for the basket of vessels in question, that works out at $72.5 billion in full year 2016. To put this in context against the boom years of the 2000s, in 2007 the ClarkSea Index averaged $33,061/day across a basket of over 15,000 ships, generating aggregate earnings of $189.1bn, over two and half times more than in 2016.

In terms of average earnings levels, 2016 actually compares more equally to 1992, 25 years ago, when the ClarkSea Index averaged $9,786/day, or 1999 when it averaged $9,855/day. But of course the fleet has grown since those days and, in dwt terms, the basket of ships in the index in 2016 was 159% bigger than in 1999 and 219% larger than in 1992. Aggregate earnings in 1999 reached $43.6bn and in 1992 were $36.1bn. 2016’s total was 66% and 101% larger respectively. In today’s challenging markets it is food for thought that the earnings stream is still that much bigger than at similar earnings levels in the past.

A Bigger Bake

And furthermore, there’s a wider world of shipping outside the scope of the ClarkSea Index basket which is (hopefully) generating income too. If, for instance, the 2016 earnings of the ClarkSea Index basket were extrapolated on a $/dwt basis (it stood at $48/dwt) across the whole of the 1.7bn dwt world cargo fleet, the overall earnings of that wider fleet would have come to $85bn. That’s roughly the size of the economy of Ukraine!

Rising Cost Of Ingredients

However, having said all this, it’s not just about earnings. Costs need to be taken into account too. Using a weighted index of OPEX across the ClarkSea Index basket and subtracting it from aggregate earnings would imply an overall net cash flow in of $23.4bn in 2016 (this compares to around $150bn in 2007 and 2008). Helpfully, in recent decades fleet expansion has outweighed growth in OPEX so the net cash flow pie has grown compared to previous downturns too.

A Slice Of The Action

So, whilst market conditions are as challenging as any seen in the last few decades, the revenue ‘pie’, though hardly tasty yet, is at least significantly larger than it was last time that earnings were at a similar level. For the industry that means a larger pie to be shared around. In today’s difficult markets that could be helpful, but of course you have to get a big enough slice. Have a nice day.