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The world of seaborne trade spreads across a wide range of commodities and goods. But in terms of growth, at any point in time some elements look overweight or underweight compared to their share of trade in total. And once distance by sea comes into the equation, things can be even more complex. This week’s Analysis examines the tale of the scales since the downturn of 2009.

 

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

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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…

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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!