Archives for posts with tag: shipbuilding industry

After a long cycle of build-up in capacity in the 2000s, shipyards hit a new peak in global output in 2010. Since then, the impact of reduced vessel ordering on shipbuilders worldwide has been a key issue for the industry, and it’s clear that global output has dropped significantly and shipyard capacity has diminished. But how far can those shipyards still active look ahead today?

Looking Forward

‘Forward cover’ is one basic indicator of the volume of work that shipyards have on order, calculated by dividing the total orderbook by the last year’s output (in CGT). Unsurprisingly, after a period of extremely low ordering in 2016, forward cover has shortened. Currently, global forward cover stands at 2.3 years having declined throughout 2016, as the orderbook shrank by 25% in CGT terms. Global forward cover was as low as 2.1 years at the start of 2013 (but delivery volumes in 2012 were 37% higher than in 2016) and peaked at 5.6 years in 2008.

Looking around the shipbuilding world, yards in Korea currently have the lowest level of cover at 1.5 years. European yards, meanwhile, bucked the trend in 2016, increasing their forward cover on the back of cruise ship orders (and falling production volumes) to 4.2 years.

Less To Go Round

Fewer fresh orders have also led to a greater number of yards ending the year without receiving a single contract. During 2005-08, the number of yards to take at least one order was on average equivalent to 87% of the number of yards active (with at least one unit on order) at the start of the year. In 2009-15, with ordering generally lower, the figure averaged 49%. In 2016 this fell further to 28%, with just 133 yards receiving an order. In China, 48 yards (26 of which were state-backed) won an order in 2016 compared to 284 yards in 2007. In Japan, 22 yards took an order in 2016 compared to 60 as recently as 2015. In Korea, 11 shipyards took an order last year.

Out Of Work?

Whilst many yards have tried to cope with the lower demand environment by slowing production or working outside their traditional product range, the statistics clearly point to huge challenges. In 2016, 117 yards delivered the final unit on their orderbook. The peak production level of these yards, many of them smaller builders, totals around 4m CGT. However, 163 yards are scheduled to deliver their current orderbook by the end of 2017 (although in reality slippage may mean some of the work runs on past the end of the year). Statistically, this represents 43% of the number of yards active at the start of the year. Although these yards have been reining back capacity and outputting less in recent years, the peak production level of this set of yards totals as much as 12m CGT. Offshore builders of course face huge pressures too, with about half of those active scheduled to deliver their final unit on order this year.

Global shipyard output and capacity have fallen significantly since the peak years. However, many remaining yards still don’t need to look too far ahead to see the end of their current workload. The shipbuilding industry will be hoping to see a return to a more active newbuilding market sooner rather than later.


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.


As in the case of most areas of shipbuilding, the contracting boom of the mid-2000s allowed Chinese shipyards to gain market share in the OSV sector. Initially, however, this was limited to relatively simple units. More recently, Chinese yards have begun to construct more sophisticated vessels, with broader global appeal. At the same time, they have grown market share (53% of the OSV orderbook, versus 36% in 2008).

AHTS Demand Dries Up

Back in the boom years, although Chinese yards took many orders, the majority of these were from Asian owners for use in the benign waters of the East. Asian-designed ‘commodity’ AHTSs of around 5,150 bhp made up the bulk (55%) of these orders. Chinese yards were assisted in gaining a market share by
build-to-stock intermediaries, such as MAC, Coastal or Nam Cheong, which outsourced orders to Chinese yards with the prior intention of resale close to delivery. Meanwhile, European owners tended to restrict their ordering to established yards, for instance those in Norway, whose designs they knew and trusted.

In Asia, working for NOCs like Petronas, Pertamina and PTTEP, whose operations are mostly near-shore, these small OSVs could find a market. But both Chinese yards (keen to diversify their product mix) and Asian owners (keen to expand their business into new geographies) had an incentive to change approach.

PSV Purchasing

In an effort to climb the value chain, Chinese yards began to licence OSV designs from European companies, such as Rolls-Royce, or Ulstein for example. Subsequent ordering of such designs has been focussed on larger PSVs – in 2013, 82% of orders for Chinese built PSVs 4,000+ dwt had European designs. Demand for these vessels outpaced that for AHTSs, as more deepwater and far-from-shore fields entered development, with PSVs being the vessel of choice for these remote operations. The yards’ previous (Asian) clients transferred their attention to these vessel types, keen to gain a slice of the action in areas like the North Sea, or West Africa. At the same time, non-Asian owners were encouraged to order at yards now offering designs which they recognised, at prices 20-30% lower than those offered by European shipyards. Between the start of 2010 and 2014, China’s OSV orderbook rose nearly fivefold, to 382 units (53% market share).

Future Demand

Of course, the trend towards China can only last if the vessels which they deliver meet with acceptance in the Atlantic oil producing regions. However, the signs are encouraging, with Chinese built vessels making up a large proportion of deliveries into internationally operated areas (33% in 2013). Of all Asian-built PSVs with European designs currently active, around 30% are employed in West Africa, whilst 30% of PSVs >3,000 dwt are working in NW Europe.

This is an evolving situation, which will become clearer as the large PSV orderbook delivers. For the time being, however, Chinese yards look to have risen to the challenge of becoming builders of OSVs attractive for global operations.


Who would have thought it? Nowadays a surprising number of people around the world seem to know about shipbuilding. Even taxi drivers can sometimes tell you there’s been a shipbuilding boom, and they’re right. For two decades the maritime industry watched in awe as shipyard output grew eightfold from 19m dwt in the early 1990s to 166m dwt in 2011.

Nice Steady Investment Story

Then came the crash. Deliveries dropped to 109m dwt in 2013, a big fall, but not the disaster many expected. Somehow the industry bailed itself out, and while lower deliveries grabbed the limelight, the yards were running flat out to keep up with the new investment profile which was throwing them a lifeline. In the run-up to the boom, 42% of estimated investment was in the tanker and container sectors; 50% in bulk and specialised, and 7% in gas. This pattern was largely maintained during the boom. All nice and steady, but then everything changed.

All Change for the Recession

Since 2008, there has been a major re-alignment in market shares, as structural changes in these segments have altered investment patterns. Tankers and containerships have suffered, falling to 22% (the tanker share fell from 24% in the boom years to 12%, and containers from 18% to 10%). Meanwhile, the bulk and specialised share jumped to almost 70%.

Time for Transition

On the tanker side, high oil prices, sluggish OECD growth and greater US energy self-sufficiency have all nibbled at demand. Meanwhile container trade growth has slowed since the boom and the sector is still struggling to absorb overcapacity. No wonder investors are easing back.

Luckily for the shipyards, bulkers and specialised vessels have stepped up to fill the gap. Bulkers have accounted for 25% of investment since 2008, similar to their share during the booming 2000s. This has been helpful for Japan and China, who dominate bulker building. And they have achieved it without taking too much of a cut on prices, which have been edging up in 2013 and 2014.

A Specialised Focus

But the real star is the specialised sector, which has accounted for 43% of estimated investment since 2008, up from 27% in 2003-2008. Cruise did pretty well, but the super-star, especially for the Korean yards, was the boom in offshore investment, including alternative energy like offshore wind farms. Offshore investment jumped from $34bn in 2008 to $47bn in 2012. Really quite exciting, but challenging for the yards.

Where Next?

So there you have it. For the time being the shipyards have struggled through, thanks to this switch in product range. Although tricky, the bulkers are keeping Japan and China busy and specialised was a nice bonus, especially for the big Korean yards. But switching product range is always difficult, and that really is the issue for the future. The first rule of shipbuilding recessions is “you never know what they’ll order next” but it’s often completely different. Have a nice day.


The impact of lower levels of vessel ordering on the size of the global shipbuilding industry has been a hot topic. It’s clear that shipyard capacity has reduced, and global output is down by as much as 20-30% since its peak in 2010. This week we take a closer look through the data archives to see what the characteristics of the industry were both before and after the shipyard capacity surge.

Eastern Delight

By the 1990s shipbuilding had largely shifted to the East. Japan commanded the top spot amongst builders but competition from Korea was mounting. Globally, around 300 yards had units on order (for vessels 1,000 GT and above), with the vast majority concentrating on a traditional marine product mix. During this period Japan had almost twice as many yards as China whose shipbuilding industry was very much in its infancy.

A New Dawn

The ‘size’ of the shipbuilding industry remained relatively steady in the first years of the new millennium. However there were notable changes in the location of available capacity. The Korean shipbuilding industry started to take the largest share of orders and more meaningful levels of commercial capacity were opening up in China. The great ordering boom of 2005-08 saw the shipbuilding industry undergo a major shift. Analysis of the orderbook data published in World Shipyard Monitor over the years shows that more than 400 extra yards came online during the period with the vast majority opening in China. By 2010, 40% of the total number of yards was in China.

Sunset Already?

As the boomtime orderbook was digested and the economic downturn kicked in, the number of yards with conventional tonnage on order reduced quite rapidly. At the start of 2012 the number of yards with an orderbook had decreased by around 20% compared to the peak in 2009. By the start of 2014, the total was 422, bringing the industry, at least in size, back towards pre-boom levels.

Survival Of The Fittest

However, whilst the merchant orderbook was falling, offshore investment was on the up. This was good news for many yards who began to shift their attention towards the offshore sector. As a result, the proportion of yards with an orderbook building ‘ship-shaped’ offshore units jumped from 17% in 2005 to 40% at the start of 2014. The growth in the offshore sector also meant greater demand for ‘non-ship shaped’ units and fixed structures, and some of the surplus traditional marine capacity has also been soaked up by this (or indeed by the growing repair market). Useful survival tactics, although this year investment in the offshore sector as a whole is down about 30% y-o-y, and last year contracting in the marine sector returned to more significant levels.

So there you have it. A look back in time provides some context to where the shipbuilding industry might be today. After a meteoric rise it’s finding its way back towards a more realistic position. Demand for offshore units has helped some yards weather the cycle, but recently they have had a better chance to return to what they know best. Have a nice day.