Archives for posts with tag: newbuild

As in many sectors of economic activity, provision of just the right amount of capacity is a tricky business, and the shipbuilding industry is no exception. As a result, in stronger markets the ‘lead time’ between ordering and delivery extends and owners can face a substantial wait to get their hands on newbuild tonnage, whilst in weaker markets the ‘lead time’ drops with yard space more readily available.

What’s The Lead?

So shipyard ‘lead time’ can be a useful indicator, but how best to measure it? One way is to examine the data and take the average time to the original scheduled delivery of contracts placed each month. The graph shows the 6-month moving average (6mma) of this over 20 years. When lead time ‘lengthens’, it reflects the fact that shipyards are relatively busy, with capacity well-utilised, and have the ability, and confidence, to take orders with delivery scheduled a number of years ahead. For shipowners longer lead times reflect a greater degree of faith in market conditions, supporting transactions which will not see assets delivered for some years hence. Longer lead times generally build up in stronger markets. Just when owners want ships to capitalise on market conditions, they can’t get them so easily. But lead times shrink when markets are weak; just when owners don’t want tonnage, conversely it’s easier to get. The graph comparing the lead time indicator and the ClarkSea Index illustrates this correlation perfectly.

Stretching The Lead

Never was this clearer than in the boom of the 2000s. Demand for newbuilds increased robustly as markets boomed. The ClarkSea Index surged to $40,000/day and yards became more greatly utilised even with the addition of new shipbuilding capacity, most notably in China. The 6mma of contract lead time jumped by 49% from 23 months to 35 months between start 2002 and start 2005. By the peak of the boom, owners were facing record average lead times of more than 40 months. In reality, as ‘slippage’ ensued, many units took even longer to actually deliver than originally scheduled.

Shrinking Lead

The market slumped after the onset of the financial crisis, with the ClarkSea Index averaging below $12,000/day in this decade so far. Lead times have dropped sharply, with yards today left with an eroding future book. The monthly lead time metric has averaged 26 months in the 2010s, despite support from ‘long-lead’ orders (such as cruise ships) and reductions in yard capacity. Of course, volatility in lead time recently reflects much more limited ordering volumes.

Taking A New Lead

So, ‘lead times’ are another good indicator of the health of the markets, expanding and contracting to reflect the balance of the demand for and supply of shipyard capacity. They also tell us much about the potential health of the shipbuilding industry. In addition, even if shorter lead times indicate the potential to access fresh tonnage more promptly, unless demand shifts significantly or yards can price to attract further capacity take-up quickly, they might just herald an oncoming slowdown in supply growth. At least that might be one positive ‘lead’ from this investigation. Have a nice day.


Looking at the ratio between newbuild and secondhand prices is a classic method of examining the state of various shipping sectors. But the metrics can be just as revealing at the older end of the market. Trends in the ratio between scrap values and secondhand prices for elderly vessels can shine further light on the health of the shipping markets, and can also have implications for fleet dynamics.

Health Check

Particularly stark signs of the current ill health of the key shipping sectors are apparent in the market dynamics for older units. With global steel prices determining ship scrap values (effectively the ‘floor’ for elderly secondhand vessel prices), the ratio of prices for older ships to estimated scrap values varies in line with market conditions. When markets are weak, investors may attribute little premium to the short-term earnings potential of elderly vessels, and secondhand prices for these ships can fall close to the scrap value.

On Life Support?

In the bulker sector, the ratio between assessments of 15 year old prices and scrap values has fluctuated dramatically. At end August 2016, amidst a depressed earnings environment, the price for a 15 year old Capesize stood at $8.0m, only 1.3 times the estimated Capesize scrap value of $6.2m, with the 20 year old price close to scrap value. These ratios have fallen in recent years as the market outlook has deteriorated, but even a 15 year old/scrap price ratio of over 2.0 in mid-2014 was a far cry from 2005-08 when 15 year old Capesize prices averaged more than 5 times scrap value, with ‘boom’ bulker earnings inflating asset values.

A similar trend has emerged in the containership sector. With charter rates largely in the doldrums since start 2012, the 15 year old price for a 2,000 TEU boxship has remained close to scrap value. Particular stress is also evident in the ‘old Panamax’ sector, with the price for a 15 year old 4,400 TEU ship now assessed at $5m, in line with estimated scrap values. In contrast, ratios in the tanker sector have generally risen in recent years. The 15 year old VLCC price was 3.5 times scrap value in early 2016, up from 1.3 times in early 2015. However, the ratio has recently dropped in line with weaker tanker earnings.

Elders On The Edge

As well as illustrating market trends, these ratios also influence fleet developments. Weaker markets and lower price ratios typically lead to more ships being scrapped rather than sold secondhand, as the ‘market mechanism’ helps to reduce oversupply. Across the bulker and containership sectors, over 70% of transactions of vessels 15+ years old since start 2012 have been accounted for by demolition sales, compared to just 11% in 2005-07. Increasingly young vessels are also being scrapped as a result.

Looking Poorly?

So, price ratios for older units can prove a useful indicator of the state of the markets. For assets generally expected to have a lifespan of 25 years or more, the historically low ratios of even 15 year old vessel prices to scrap values in some sectors is a clear and sobering reminder of the challenges still being faced.


It has been well documented that newbuild orders have slowed substantially in 2015, with 857 contracts recorded at yards in the first three quarters of the year, down 45% from 2014 on an annualised basis. However, it’s also clear that builders in the big three shipbuilding countries have experienced differing fortunes. Looking beyond the aggregate trend, what has driven the divergent outcomes?

Hardened Times

In 2015 so far, the newbuilding market has seen subdued ordering activity. In the first three quarters, shipyards globally took orders equivalent to 24.3m CGT (compensated gross tonnes, a measure of shipyard ‘work’ or capacity). This compares to a total of 43.9m CGT in full year 2014. However, the big three builder countries have experienced significantly different fortunes. Chinese yards have been hit extremely hard, with new contracts in CGT terms down by 49% on an annualised basis. New contracts at Japanese yards, meanwhile, have dropped by a more moderate 14%, whilst ordering in Korea has fallen by 7%, not too bad when global contracting is down by 26%.

Exposed To A Changing Mix

What explains the difference? Many factors are at play but foremost is the ‘product mix’ – the type of units ordered. And even more so, it’s the mix in the context of the ‘exposure’ or track record that each builder nation has in the key vessel sectors. The graph illustrates ordering in selected sectors in the major builder countries alongside their ‘exposure’.

The bulker sector lies at the heart of Chinese yards’ fortunes this year. Global bulker orders of 2.6m CGT (152 units) are down by 77% on an annualised basis (to 11% of orders globally). In 2014 China took 9.2m CGT of bulker orders, but in 2015 ytd has taken only 0.5m CGT. This accounts for 8% of total Chinese orders of 6.3m CGT this year, but over the previous five years bulkers have accounted for 57% of contracting in China (and 39% of contracts globally). China’s exposure to bulkers comes at a price now that the product mix has shifted.

Anyone Well Set?

Boxships and tankers have accounted for 61% of global ordering in the ytd, and Korean builders’ exposure to these sectors (23% and 28% respectively in 2010-14) has stood them in good stead. These types have accounted for 71% of the total 8.8m CGT of contracts placed in Korea in the ytd, with the major yards more focussed on boxships and medium-sized builders on tankers. In Japan, meanwhile, product switching has helped. Japanese builders have historically been highly exposed to bulkers (64% in 2010-14, and 29% even in 2015 ytd) but an increased focus on tankers and boxships (23% and 29% in 2015 ytd respectively), and support from domestic ordering, has allowed them to plug into today’s product mix, taking  6.0m CGT of orders in the ytd.

Monitoring The Exposure

So, aggregate building trends tell part of the story but product mix developments can be critical too. As every good trader knows, understanding your exposure is important. Sometimes this can be managed, and sometimes not, but it generally explains a lot. Have a nice day.


According to Oscar Wilde, a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. He haggles endlessly over a few hundred thousand dollars on a $20 million ship, when its real “value” is nothing like $20 million. Wilde also mentions “sentimentalists” who are seized by ideas like “the world’s biggest ship”, without really grasping the economics needed to make them work.

The “Price” Is Right

In both cases the key distinction is between the cash which changes hands and the value received in return. In shipping cash is exchanged for a ship and investors can easily check that it’s the right price from brokers’ reports. Another price check is to compare the ship price over time (the blue line in the graph plots the price of a 5 year old Panamax bulker) with the price suggested by a model based on spot earnings and newbuilding prices (the red line plots the price calculated by a regression model – the fit is excellent with an R-squared of 0.9). Currently brokers are reporting $24m and the model says $20m, so the market price is a bit high? Or is it?

The “Value” Investment Model

Which brings us to the ship’s “value”. Back at start 1999 when a 5 year old Panamax bulkcarrier cost $12.5m, the “model” suggested that this was a bit expensive, and $10m was more in line with fundamentals. But anyone who paid $12.5m in 1999 was getting astonishing value. By start 2007 the ship, 13 years old, was worth about $31m and over the eight years it had earned about $42m on the spot market. Deduct operating costs and the $12.5m purchase price produces a very handy profit indeed.

That’s value, but for new investors who entered the market in late 2007, the value proposition was reversed. By then the 5-year-old Panamax had a price of $75m, and the model says it should be about $70m. So if you could snap it up for, say, $65m it’s a bargain … not. Unfortunately the future value “premium” proved to be negative and by start 2014 the 11-year-old ship was only worth $17m, a $58m loss. Spot earnings over the 6 years were about $33m thanks to strong markets in 2007/8 but after operating costs the loss is significant. So haggling over a $70m or $75m purchase price was not the issue. It was all about “value”.

Hidden Value Premium

Today the Panamax price is $24m and the model says it should be $20m. But what about its “value”? Is today more like January 1999, late 2007, or something in between? Not many punters would back the January 1999 value premium. Spikes like 2007/8 are far too rare, and with today’s economic problems the fundamentals are against it. But the market is pretty low, so negative value like 2007 seems equally unlikely too.

Cynics In Charge

So there you have it. Maybe shipping investors should be contemplating a fuzzy scenario in which they break even, and maybe make a bit of cash, but not much? Not the excitement they’re used to, but compared with other investments on offer, maybe not such a bad one. In which case, today’s price may be just as important as its value. Have a nice day.


Price indicators can tell market-watchers many things. In the volatile shipping markets they can provide a helpful window on both the health of today’s markets and expectations of future conditions. In the case of the latter, they may not be correct but it’s always interesting to take a look. So, how do price indicators help us gauge the state of play?

The Price Is Right?

In a “normal” market, or at least when owners have the expectation of one, the price of a 5-year-old ship should theoretically be about 75-80% of the price of the newbuilding, reflecting that merchant ships have a 20-25 year economic life and depreciate accordingly, other things being equal. The Graph of the Week shows the 5 year old to newbuild price ratio for a Capesize bulkcarrier, a VLCC tanker and a 2750 TEU containership for the last 10 years.

Bulk Better, Box Bottom

Well, today’s VLCC price ratio is right on the 75% mark, having dropped as low as 58% in late 2011. What does that tell us about expectations? Crude oil trade is a mature business with 1% growth expected in 2014, but VLCC fleet expansion is projected to be sub-2% this year, so that’s a better balance than for a while. On the dry side the Capesize price ratio (which once hit 160% as owners sought to get their hands on tonnage at the height of the boom) is flourishing at 90%. That might be a good representation of expectations, with sentiment seemingly fairly positive, Capesize fleet growth expected to slow to 4% in 2014 and iron ore trade expansion projected to motor on at 10% this year.

The ratio for the 2750 TEU containership is much lower, standing at 51%, almost as low as the 44% seen in 2009 (though it’s higher in some of the larger boxship sizes). Given the size of the surplus generated by the 9% downturn in trade in 2009, the box sector remains a bit further behind the curve than the bulk sectors. And here the difference in potential fuel efficiency between new designs and older ships is starker, pressuring the secondhand asset price further.

Downturn Downtime

So the ratios today seem fairly well aligned with market perceptions. But how have they fared since the onset of the downturn? Since September 2008, the Capesize ratio has spent just 33% of the time below the 75% line. The VLCC ratio has spent 65% of the time below 75% but only 29% of the time below 65%. So, in those sectors the impact on asset pricing could have been worse.

Was It So Bad?

The downturns in the 1970s and 1980s were far harsher on asset prices. In the late 1970s the ratio for both a Panamax bulker and for an Aframax tanker dipped as low as 40%. Interest rates were much higher, and the banks were much quicker to foreclose on “distressed” assets. This time, despite the slump in 2008, the price ratios haven’t suffered so dramatically (in the bulk markets at least) and investor appetite remains. However, part of that is a reflection of today’s expectations and time will tell how well investors have forecast future market developments. Have a nice day.