Archives for posts with tag: seaborne trade

In the metal and mineral bulk trades, as in the heavy metal music scene, a few very big names often end up dominating the headlines: metal has the likes of Metallica, Rammstein and Judas Priest; mining bulk has iron ore and coal. But in both cases, the triumphs and travails of the smaller names can often be just as riveting and indicative of the broader trends as those of the superstars…

Atlas, Rise!

The ‘mining bulks’ consist of the metallic and mineral outputs of the extractive industries (and substitutes such as scrap metal destined for blast furnaces) typically shipped in bulkcarriers. Seaborne trade in mining bulks is projected to stand at 3,415mt in 2017. Unsurprisingly, the ‘mining’ major bulks of iron ore and coal predominate in the forecast. Even so, ‘mining’ minor bulks (a range of commodities utilised primarily in metallurgy such as bauxite, manganese ore, nickel ore, copper concentrate and coke) still make up a respectable 22% of the projection. As part of the cargo creating demand for a bulker fleet of over 11,000 vessels, the mining minor bulks are no minor matter.

As for demand for the mining minor bulks, while there are numerous importers, China has been the main driver of seaborne trade growth. Since the start of the century, seaborne trade in mining minor bulks has increased at a CAGR of 3.4% whereas imports into China have grown at a CAGR of 16%. The disparities are just as apparent in specific areas such as bauxite/alumina (4.5% versus 21%) and other non-ferrous ores (8.5% versus 20%, with metals like manganese used in steel alloys). Indeed, China accounts for more than 50% of growth in seaborne mining minor bulk imports since 2000. Just as in shipping and seaborne trade generally, China has played a key role in mining minor bulk trade growth.

Reise, Reise

The picture is more complex on the supply side, with mining minor bulks sourced from a range of countries, none accounting for more than 9% of total exports. Developing countries are prominent. For example, the Philippines is projected to account for 75% of nickel ore exports in 2017, Guinea for 45% of bauxite exports and Chile for 38% of copper concentrate exports. Some developed economies like Australia are involved, but on the whole, trends in mining minor bulk further confirm the ongoing diversification of shipping trade networks, particularly between China and other developing economies.

Metal Meltdown

As the Graph of the Month shows, mining minor bulk trade can also be very volatile, another common feature of seaborne trade. Mining minor bulk volatility is in part due to political risk factors such as strikes and government policy. Indonesia accounted for 57% (65mt) of seaborne nickel ore exports in 2013; by 2015, it was exporting no nickel ore at all following the mineral ore export ban introduced to boost the domestic smelting sector.

So the mining minor bulks are in sense akin to more obscure heavy metal bands. They may be complex and often idiosyncratic but certain key themes are apparent: the impact of China, the emergence of new trade patterns and market volatility, each illustrating broader trends in shipping too. Have a nice day.

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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.

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Global oil prices were buoyed in Q4 2016 by OPEC’s decision to cut production. Perhaps more surprising still was the extent of compliance with quotas, for an organisation with a past track record of over-production. At their recent meeting, OPEC overcame some members’ objections and agreed to extend the cuts until March 2018. How will this affect the oil price and how does it impact the shipping industry?

Cutting To The Quick

Twenty years ago, OPEC had substantial control over the supply side of the oil market. Today, the rise of shale oil has created doubts that OPEC retains the power to influence the market in a lasting way. This question is still to be resolved, though it is true that the cuts have allowed shale producers a new lease of life in terms of spending (up c.50% in 2017) and drilling (the US land rig count is up 120% y-o-y). However, OPEC are making the most concerted attempt for more than a decade to control supply. As the Graph of the Month shows, past quota compliance has been poor, and indeed for a decade this was effectively acknowledged by the lack of a formal quota.

Cutting Down

The difference recently is that OPEC has actually succeeded in cutting to below the level of the quota, despite allowing some members (such as Iran) to avoid formal cuts. The collective reduction has partly been down to outages (notably in Nigeria and Venezuela). However, it also reflects Saudi Arabia shouldering a lion’s share of cuts (c.0.75m bpd or 55%).

Expectations of an extension to cuts boosted oil prices in the run up to the announcement (though after the meeting, prices fell as investors took profits). Higher prices have a range of ramifications for shipping. One consequence is higher fuel prices, increasing shipowners’ costs unless they can pass this on. Previous periods of high fuel costs pushed owners to slow steam. This mitigated the problem, to some extent, but few ships sped up when prices came down. So currently this would be a difficult trick to repeat.

Cut And Run?

The cuts could also affect tanker demand, either via lower crude and product exports (27% of seaborne trade), or lesser import demand if high prices moderate demand growth. So far, price increases have been moderate, and it seems as if the Saudis in particular have been doing their best to curtail domestic oil usage to protect long-haul export customers (more than 18m bpd, of 47%, of crude trade is exported from the Middle East Gulf).

Perhaps most obviously, the OPEC cuts have brought a modicum of more bullish sentiment to oil companies’ E&P investment decisions. This has helped offshore markets a little, notably through a small upturn in tendering and fixing activity for drilling rigs (Clarkson Research’s average rig rate index is up 2% since end-2016). However, there has been little to no effect on rates in related markets such as OSVs, and most would acknowledge the extreme fragility of any improvement.

So, the widely-trailed extension to OPEC production cuts boosted oil prices during May, although it remains to be seen if shale production quickly offsets this. Oil price dynamics have a mixture of positive and negative effects for shipping, but certainly remain crucial given the key role of oil both for shipping and for the wider economy. Have a nice day!

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In the last few decades, the shipping industry has generally been able to rely on seaborne trade as a fairly steady performer. However, the slowdown in volume growth since the financial crisis has focussed the industry’s thoughts on potential barriers to healthy long-term trade growth, so all eyes are on signs of a potential return to faster expansion in volumes…

Steady As She Goes

From 1988 to 2008 growth in world seaborne trade averaged an estimated 4.2% pa, a fairly robust level underpinning long-term demand for ships. Sure, the markets at times felt the impact of oversupply, but sustained weakness of demand growth wasn’t generally the problem. However, since 2009 the growth rate has slowed, averaging 3.2%, and just 2.8% since 2013. This still equates to significant additional volumes (1.8% growth in 2015 added 194m tonnes) but it’s still enough to get market players worrying.

Could Be Worse?

But should it? Maybe it depends on how you put the trend into context. Cycles can be long; Martin Stopford has famously identified 12 dry cargo cycles of more than 10 years back to the 1740s! The current cycle certainly feels like it has dragged on; it’s now more than eight years since the onset of the financial crisis. However, there are interesting historical comparisons. Between 1929 (the year of the Wall Street Crash) and 1932, the value of global trade dropped by 62% and didn’t get back to the same level until the post-war years. Now that really would have been a time to worry!

Getting Serious?

Today perhaps some of the anxiety is amplified by the seemingly wide range of factors that look threatening to seaborne trade’s supportive historical record. Protectionist tendencies, whether they be from the Trump presidency or the UK’s Brexit vote, slowing growth in China, ‘peak trade’, robotics and 3D printing: no-one really knows how things will pan out but everyone’s watching closely for anything to allay at least some of the fears.

Basket Case

So that brings us back to our old friend the ‘monthly trade basket’ (see graph and description). Six months ago we reported that this appeared to be showing a pick-up and this time round things are still looking positive. The 3-month moving average shows a generally upward trend since autumn 2015 with an average of 4% in the second half of 2016, hinting that the bottom of the demand cycle may finally have been passed. The current projection for overall seaborne trade in 2017 is still less than 3% with plenty of scenarios possible, but both market sentiment and the momentum right now feel a little more positive than that.

Feeling Any Better Yet?

So, while it’s quite right to try to assess the range of factors which appear to be lining up against a return to more robust levels of trade growth, it’s also far from incorrect to look for signs of a turn in the trend. Cycles in shipping can be long and sometimes it can take a while to identify them. That may not be helpful to hear but you can have a nice day trying…

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We’re well into the Year of the Rooster in China now, but trade figures for last year are still coming in and it’s interesting to see what a major impact China still had in 2016. Economic growth rates may have slowed, and the focus of global economic development may have diversified to an extent, but China was very much still at the heart of the world’s seaborne trade.

Not A Lucky Year

In 2015 the Chinese economy saw both a slowdown in growth and a significant degree of turbulence. GDP growth slowed from 7.3% in 2014 to 6.9%. Steel consumption in China was easing and growth in Chinese iron ore imports slowed from 15% to 3%. Coal imports slumped by an even more dramatic 30%. Container trade was affected badly too. China is the dominant force on many of the world’s most important container trade lanes and is involved in over half of the key intra-Asia trade. Uncertainty in the Chinese economy in 2015 took a heavy toll on this and intra-Asian trade growth slumped to 3% from 6% in 2014. Going into 2016, there was plenty of apprehension about Chinese trade, and its impact on seaborne volumes overall.

Back In Action

However, things turned out to be a lot more positive in 2016 than most observers expected. China once again underpinned growth in bulk trade, with iron ore imports surprising on the upside, registering 7% growth on the back of producer price dynamics, and coal imports bouncing back by 20%. Crude oil imports into China also registered rapid growth of 16%, supported by greater demand for crude from China’s ‘teapot’ refiners.

In containers, growth in intra-Asian trade returned to a robust 6%, and the Chinese mainlane export trades fared better too, with Far East-Europe volumes back into positive growth territory and the Transpacific trade seeming to roar ahead. Overall, total Chinese seaborne imports  grew 7% in 2016, up from 1% in 2015, with Chinese imports accounting for around 20% of the global import total. Growth in Chinese exports remained steady at 2%.

Thank Goodness

Despite all this, seaborne trade expanded globally by just 2.7% in 2016. Thank goodness Chinese trade beat expectations. Of the 296mt added to world seaborne trade, 142mt was added by Chinese imports, equal to nearly 50% of the growth. Unfortunately, this was counterbalanced by trends elsewhere, with Europe remaining in the doldrums and developing economies under pressure from diminished commodity prices.

Rooster Booster?

So, 2015 illustrated that a maturing economy and economic turbulence could derail Chinese trade growth. But China is a big place, and 2016 shows it still has the ability to drive seaborne trade and that the world hasn’t yet found an alternative to ‘Factory Asia’. 2017 might see a focus on other parts of the world too, with hopes for the US economy, India to drive volumes, and developing economies to potentially benefit from improved commodity prices. But amidst all that, China will no doubt still have a big say in the fortunes of world seaborne trade. Have a nice day.

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The car carrier sector has been yet another part of the shipping industry to have faced challenging conditions this year. The focus has largely been on demand side difficulties, with growth in global seaborne car trade appearing to have gone into reverse gear. It has been a rather bumpy ride, and today’s car carrier market indicators still seem to be flashing up plenty of warning signals.

Going Slow

Growth in global seaborne car trade has struggled to return to the robust levels seen prior to the global economic downturn, when car trade was one of the faster growing parts of seaborne trade. Given the strong link between economic growth, consumer demand and car sales, the car carrier sector has been highly exposed to sluggish world economic performance in recent years, and global seaborne car trade has still not yet returned to its 2008 peak of 21.3m cars, with average growth of just 1.4% p.a. in 2013-15. This year has seen further pressure on seaborne volumes, with car trade projected to have dropped 4% to 19.8m cars.

The key driver of this fall has been considerably lower imports into developing economies following the commodity price downturn. Car sales in these countries have dropped sharply, and seaborne car imports into the Middle East, Africa and South America are set to drop by more than 10% this year. While imports into North America and Europe, still the two largest markets for imported vehicles, have grown moderately (by 2% and 4% respectively), this has not been enough to offset declines elsewhere. Other factors have also dented volumes, with expansion of car output closer to demand centres leading to a disconnect between global car sales, which have continued to expand, and seaborne trade volumes.

Warning Lights

Largely as a result of the downturn in demand, car carrier market conditions have deteriorated further this year. Most car carriers still operate under long-term agreements, but guideline charter rates have fallen back to subdued levels, with the one year rate for a 6,500 ceu PCTC falling to $16,000/day in recent weeks, down 30% from the start of the year. Vessel idling has risen, utilisation of active capacity is under pressure, and waiting time between fixtures has increased, whilst a trend towards shorter-term and spot fixtures has also been apparent.

Making The Turn

In response to these pressures, owners have stepped up supply-side action. Scrapping has increased, and is projected to reach 0.2m car equivalent capacity this year, over four times the 2015 level and the highest since 2009, with fleet capacity projected to have declined by 0.3% in full year 2016. Meanwhile, only two ships have been ordered this year, after 42 contracts were placed in 2015.

Route Planning

Yet the road ahead still seems far from clear for the car carrier sector, with demand seeming unlikely to shift up a few gears in the short-term. In our annual Car Carrier Trade & Transport report, we look at the latest trends in detail. This year’s report is now available on the Shipping Intelligence Network. Have a nice day.

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World seaborne trade, whilst still growing at a relatively steady pace, has seen a slightly less rapid rate of growth since 2015, compared to both the longer-term historical average, and the more recent 2011-14 period. Economists have spent a lot of time sifting through the factors that might be the drivers behind changes in trade growth. What might a look at more detailed seaborne trends add to the argument?

So, What’s The Argument?

One element of the debate has been whether the slowdown in the rate of trade growth, or at least the apparent reduction of the multiplier over global GDP growth (the so-called ‘trade beta’), has been the result of structural shifts in the emerging economies or if it is more closely related to the current sluggish performance of developed economies. Theorists suggest that the former would have a longer-term dampening effect on trade growth, whilst the latter would indicate something, that whilst still a highly negative impact, may improve with time.

Seaborne trade data could help to shine some light on the argument. The red line on the graph shows the 3mma of y-o-y growth in a basket of imports to developing nations (see notes). In 2014, imports rose 7.4%, but growth slowed to 0.5% in 2015 with China’s coal imports falling and iron ore imports growing more slowly. But China’s imports are far from stuck in the doldrums, and growth in the developing world imports featured here has bounced back to a robust 6.3% so far this year. On this basis, even with China’s economy maturing, it does not seem that trade into developing economies is settling into a period of uninterrupted weaker growth.

Gone West?

But what about the western world? Well, trends in North American and European consumer imports could be a useful indicator. Growth in container trade into Europe and North America averaged 4.5% in 2014, but slowed to 2.1% in 2015, with European imports falling. In 2016 so far, growth has picked up slightly (to 2.9%), but has still been fairly moderate. Maybe this supports the view that the more notable brake on trade growth is from soft developed world demand rather than sustained shifts in the developing world?

Wider Trends

But, in reality, there are other trends in seaborne trade to take into account. For instance, growth in the energy and construction industries in some developed nations has been subdued, and European coal and iron ore imports have fallen. Box trade into some developing nations has come under pressure from low commodity prices. Supply disruptions in exporting nations have also impacted trade, especially in crude oil and minor bulks.

So, global trade growth is not in its prime, and there is debate over the relative impact of developed and developing world trends and their implications for the longer-term. At a glance, seaborne trade data might seem to point towards a bigger issue with western demand than with developing world imports. This is still painful, but the cycle might turn. But seaborne trade highlights that there are a range of other factors at play too. As ever, it is not simple, but as usual seaborne trade trends tell us something about the big debates. Have a nice day.

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