Archives for posts with tag: Tanker earnings

There have been plenty of record breaking facts and figures to report across 2016, unfortunately mostly of a gloomy nature! From a record low for the Baltic Dry Index in February to a post-1990 low for the ClarkSea Index in August, there have certainly been plenty of challenges. That hasn’t stopped investors however (S&P not newbuilds) so let’s hope for less record breakers (except demolition!?) in 2017.SIW1254

Unwelcome Records….

Our first record to report came in August when the ClarkSea Index hit a post-1990 low of $7,073/day. Its average for the year was $9,441/day, down 35% y-o-y and also beating the previous cyclical lows in 2010 and 1999. With OPEX for the same basket of ships at $6,394/day, margins were thin or non-existent.

Challenges Abound….

Across sectors, average tanker earnings for the year were “OK” but still wound down by 40%, albeit from an excellent 2015. Despite a good start and end to the year, the wet markets were hit hard by a weak summer when production outages impacted. The early part of the year also brought us another unwelcome milestone: the Baltic Dry Index falling to an all time low of 291. Heavy demolition in the first half and better than expected Chinese trade helped later in the year – fundamentals may be starting to turn but perhaps taking time to play out with bumps on the way. The container market (see next week) had another tough year, including its first major corporate casualty for 30 years in Hanjin. LPG had a “hard” landing after a stellar 2015, LNG showed small improvements and specialised products started to ease back. As reported in our mid-year review, every “dog has its day” and in 2016, this was Ro-Ro and Ferry, with earnings 50% above the trend since 2009. Also spare a thought for the offshore sector, arguably facing an even more extreme scenario than shipping.

Buy, Buy, Buy….

In our review of 2015, we speculated that buyers might be “eyeing up a bottoming out dry cycle” in 2016 and a 24% increase in bulker tonnage bought and sold suggests a lot of owners agreed. Indeed, 44m dwt represents another all time record for bulker S&P, with prices increasing marginally after the first quarter and brokers regularly reporting numerous parties willing to inspect vessels coming for sale. Tanker investors were much more circumspect and volumes and prices both fell by a third. Greeks again topped the buyer charts, followed by the Chinese. Demo eased in 2H but (incl. containers) total volumes were up 14% (44m dwt).

Order Drought….

Depending on your perspective, an overall 71% drop in ordering (total orders also hit a 35 year record low) is either cause for optimism or for further gloom! In fact, only 113 yards took orders (for vessels 1,000+ GT) in the year, compared to 345 in 2013, with tanker orders down 83% and bulkers down 46%. There was little ordering in any sector, except Cruise (a record 2.5m GT and $15.6bn), Ferry and Ro-Ro (all niche business however and of little help to volume yards).

Final Record….

Finally a couple more records – global fleet growth of 3% to 1.8bn dwt (up 50% since the financial crisis with tankers at 555m dwt and bulkers at 794m dwt) and trade growth of 2.6% to 11.1bn tonnes (up 3bn tonnes since the financial crisis) mean we still finish with the largest fleet and trade volumes of all time! Plenty of challenges again in 2017 but let’s hope we aren’t reporting as many gloomy records next year.
Have a nice New Year!

With tanker owners “on top of the world” and their dry bulk counterparts often feeling like they are “staring into the abyss”, 2015 was a year of contrasting fortunes across bulk shipping. However with global seaborne trade growth slowing to 2% (to reach 10.7bn tonnes) and the world fleet growing at 3% (to reach 1.8bn dwt), for many sectors it has been a case of the fundamentals working against them.


Onwards And Upwards

The good news or the bad? Well let’s start with the good! There is no doubt who stole the show in 2015, with average tanker earnings up 73% y-o-y and VLCCs leading the way, up 120% with earnings spiking over $100,000/day. Low oil prices drove demand (total seaborne oil trade grew 4.8% to 2.9bn tonnes), supporting the best tanker market since 2008. Indeed, with a tanker fleet around 30% bigger than during the last market spike, the approximate earnings flow into the sector topped $42bn, the second highest year on record after 2008 ($46bn).

Sitting Pretty

Although tankers had a sparkling year, VLGCs managed to outdo even their stellar performance of 2014, with average earnings increasing to over $85,000/day! LPG was also the top performing trade, with an estimated 8% increase (with US exports up over 30% to around 16mt). The specialised products market made steady gains, as did the ro-ro, ferry and cruise markets. Elsewhere however, it was difficult to avoid a sinking feeling.

That Sinking Feeling!

Having spent the years since the financial crisis worrying about supply, dry bulk owners seemed to “get the message” with an 87% increase in demolition and an 74% drop in ordering. 93 demolished Capesizes represented an all time record, and bulkcarrier fleet growth of 2.7% was the slowest since 2003. However the reality of the “new economic normal” in China (where coal imports dropped 28% and iron ore imports managed just 1% growth) meant that seaborne dry bulk trade stalled at 4.7bn tonnes. Average earnings fell 28%, but in the final months of the year, earnings sat at OPEX levels and reached well publicised all time lows.

Buyers & Sellers…

Despite the rush to beat NOx Tier III regulations, newbuilding orders across tankers and bulkers totalled 65m dwt, down 32% year-on-year. Overall yard orders totalled 96m dwt ($70bn), down 21%, with busy ordering of large containerships in the first six months of the year. The average lead time for orders however dropped to 22 months and the immediate outlook is quiet. We reported 67m dwt of tanker and bulker sales in 2015, down on 2014, especially for tankers (-34%). Asset prices were relatively steady in tankers but unsurprisingly down 30-40% in dry, with buyers increasingly selective towards good spec tonnage. Greek owners again topped the asset play charts, involved in nearly 50% of all reported tanker and bulker deals either as buyers or sellers. Meanwhile, scrap prices nearly halved, as global steel prices fell.

Poles Apart?

So, it was a year of contrasting fortunes across wet and dry (we estimate the largest earnings differential on record!), but a tough year for most across shipping (look out for our review of the container market next week and our offshore review in Offshore Intelligence Monthly for more depressing numbers!). Perhaps 2016 may be a case of “opposites attract”, with those tanker owners sitting on the top of the world eyeing up a bottoming out dry cycle. Have a nice New Year!

It’s now more than a year since the tanker market took off. In mid-2014 tanker earnings picked up and since then have been in the $30-$40,000/day range. But the market remains nervous. This tanker pick-up coincided with a slump in dry bulk earnings, which is interesting because on paper bulkers and tankers both seem to have surplus capacity. So why are tankers doing so much better than bulkers?

Long-Term Premium

On an “all sizes average” basis tanker earnings generally exceed bulker earnings (the tanker “basket” contains a greater share of larger ships). For example, between 1990 and 2015 to date tanker earnings averaged $24,996/day, whilst bulkers earned $13,933/day. That gives tankers a 79% premium over bulkers. During the seven years since the Credit Crisis, the premium has remained. Tankers have earned $18,281/day, compared to bulkers’ $12,427/day, a 47% premium. So the “premium” relationship held, even during a period of deep recession.

Earnings Distribution

However, during the period of recession tanker earnings have swung from below to above “average premium levels”. To illustrate this point we have estimated what tanker earnings “should have been” over the last seven years if they had followed the “average premium” relationship with bulker earnings over the full period back to 1990. This relationship was estimated using a regression equation as a “rule of thumb”, using monthly data for the period 1990 to 2015, and then used to estimate tanker earnings since 2009 from bulker earnings, shown by the red line on the graph.

For the first five years tankers underperformed compared to the long-term “average premium” versus bulkers, with the blue line, showing actual earnings, below the red line. But in 2014 they started to exceed the expected premium as bulker earnings dropped and tanker earnings increased. Currently tanker earnings offer a significant “bonus” above the estimated “norm”, at levels about six times higher than bulker earnings.

More Than One Answer

So what’s going on? The first answer is that tankers are playing “catch up” for the bad run early in the recession. But there are other answers to the question. One is that in 2015 oil trade has grown much faster than expected, increasing by 4% compared with only 2% expected earlier in the year. Another is the oil price collapse from over $100/bbl to close to $40/bbl, creating an opportunity for arbitrage by holding oil in ships, in anticipation of a price increase. Additionally, of course, bulkers have suffered from an absence of demand growth this year.

The Usual Suspects?

So there you have it. The tanker boom has gone on longer than many might have anticipated and tanker earnings are outperforming their long-run relationship with bulker earnings. But a “fundamental” surplus remains and investors might be right to be cautious. Scrapping has almost stopped, ordering has picked up and supply growth is set to increase. So, enjoy it while you can, and remember that it’s partly a game of catch up. Have a nice day.


Analysts are busy updating their models for the new US budget year. If the big picture for tankers and bulkcarriers is what interests you, it’s not enormously complicated. Everyone uses roughly the same information, and data for running supply-demand balances is readily available. Of course it’s a complex world, but one conclusion is recurrent – overall, there’s still plenty of surplus shipping capacity.

Same Surplus, Different Rates

The fundamentals have not changed much over the summer. Comparing ‘raw’ supply and demand figures, both the tanker and bulker sectors appear to have a surplus of around 25%. These are the same numbers that have been cropping up for a while. But earnings statistics tell a different story. Over the last year tanker earnings averaged $29,000/day (VLCCs $50,000, Suezmaxes $43,000 and Aframaxes $35,000). But bulkers only managed $8,000/day (Capesizes $11,000, Panamaxes $8,000 and Supramaxes about $7,600). If both markets have 20-30% surplus capacity, what’s going on?

Could the statistics be wrong? It’s possible but it’s hard to see how. In tankers, for example, 2015 seaborne oil imports are only 6% higher than in 2008 but the tanker fleet is 33% bigger. These statistics are fairly easily verified. Bulk trade is up 38% since 2008, but the fleet has grown 93%. There may be some extra tonne-miles, but not enough to change the conclusion that both markets are carrying a lot of surplus ships.

A Slow Moving Mystery

Another possibility is our old friend ‘slow steaming’. Maybe tanker owners are getting smarter. The tanker fleet trading at 15 knots carries around 25-30% more cargo than at 11-12 knots. Supply-demand calculations are usually based on a ‘design’ speed, say 15 knots. So if the fleet trades at 11 knots, the ‘surplus’ disappears because the fleet is strung out around the world, with no surplus ships at the loading zones. Freight negotiations are based on prompt ships, so it’s the backlog that does the damage. If ships speed up, surplus capacity is released to undermine the boom. But if owners do not speed up, and are sufficiently aggressive, they can benefit from the supply curve kink until someone breaks ranks, and create market spikes.

Cargo Helps

Bulkers operate in a more complex market, with different charterers. Capesizes trading at around 11.5 knots have squeezed out a few short spikes in recent years, but the smaller ships haven’t. A market moving from demand growth to apparent stagnation does not help either. Owners have a better chance of pushing rates up when cargo volumes are rising.

Does It Matter?

So there you have it. Tankers are doing well today, but are they now a better investment? The red line on the graph shows the trend in the difference in earnings over 25 years. Tankers on average earned about $7,300/day more with a slight trend in bulkers’ favour. But what the graph really demonstrates is that it basically averages out in the end. Like poker, it’s not about the hand, it’s about the players. Have a nice day.

On 14th August 1948, Don Bradman, Australia’s greatest cricketer of all, walked out for his last test match innings, at the Oval in London. Over 52 test matches, his average score was an astonishing 99.9 runs. All he needed was 4 runs for a test match average of 100 (sorry non-cricketers, you’ll have to check it out on Wikipedia). But he was bowled out second ball by leg spinner Eric Hollies.

Two Simple Rules

The moral of this sad story is that however experienced you are, two basic rules apply. Keep your eye on the ball and watch out for spinners that behave erratically. That seems to apply pretty well to today’s tanker market. The fantastic revival of tanker earnings started in October 2013, was interrupted by the summer dip in 2014, then picked up in October 2014. Since then it has not looked back, with crude tanker earnings generally averaging $40-$50,000/day. There is a little weakening right now, but sentiment appears to be confident for the winter.

Demanding Wicket

Against the background of a 2% fall in seaborne crude oil trade in 2014, US fracking and a lacklustre world economy, this earnings surge was a surprise. But there were some mitigating factors. Low oil prices are boosting demand and the IEA has revised up its forecast for growth in global oil demand in 2015 to 1.6m bpd.

Growth on long-haul trades has also helped. Between 2011 and 2014 Caribbean tonne-mile exports increased by 36%, largely due to increased shipments to China and India. That sounds good, but many VLCCs repositioned with a backhaul e.g. West African crude for Europe, and maybe a Transatlantic fuel oil cargo. Although handling fuel oil is time consuming, especially when it involves STS (ship to ship), this undermined some of the “tonne-mile” effect. And so did cargo-leg speeds, which appear to have edged upwards over the last year. But while the part played by demand may not seem entirely clear, there has still been a notable improvement in crude trade volumes this year, with seaborne shipments to major importers estimated to have increased by 4% year-on-year in 1H 2015.

It’s Supply, Stupid?

When we turn to supply, the picture becomes clearer. Until the summer of 2013, the crude tanker fleet was growing at 15-20m dwt pa. That’s about 5-6% per annum growth, well above demand growth. But by October 2013 growth had fallen to 2%, producing a nice year-end spike. The tanker supply slowdown kept on going and by July 2014 the crude tanker fleet was declining. Admittedly the growth has
edged up so far in 2015, but only to around 1-2% per annum.

Nasty Spinner In Sixteen?

So there you have it. Tanker investors have scored well in the last year, but, like Don Bradman, they must remember rule two and watch out for the spinners. Although fleet growth is sluggish, the crude tanker orderbook for 2016 could produce a “googly” as it pushes fleet growth back up to 6% (depending on demolition). Even with positive demand, tanker investors are going to have to keep their eye on that ball and hope it breaks the right way. Have a nice day.


Price ratios are a classic indicator used in a range of industries where assets depreciate over time. In the shipping sector, they can often tell us something about the perceived health of the market, and in particular about what investors are really willing to outlay to get their hands on assets that are on the water today compared to investing in a new vessel.

A Classic Ratio

One classic shipping market indicator is the ratio of the 5 year old price of a ship to the newbuild price of a similar vessel. On the basis of a 25 year lifespan, a 5 year old ship, depreciating on an even basis, would be worth around 80% of the newbuild price. However, if investors feel that the market is strong enough, they may be willing to pay a premium to get their hands on a secondhand vessel to operate in the market today. Conversely, if the earnings environment looks weak, investors may take a more negative view of the value of the existing asset.

The graph shows the 5yo/Newbuild price ratio for a VLCC tanker, a Panamax bulkcarrier and a 2750 TEU containership over time. Immediately apparent is that during the boom shipping market of the mid to late 2000s, the featured ratios stood well above the 80% line, and at times above 100% for all three vessel types, with the Panamax bulker ratio as high as 170% in late 2007. Since the downturn in 2008, the ratios have fallen. From one angle, it could have been worse; there was a period when all three ratios exceeded 80% (Mar 10-Jun 11). However, in general the ratios have been depressed, and there have been clear phases (Oct 08-Mar 09, Aug 12-Apr 13) when they have all been below 80%.

Ups And Downs

So what do the ratios tell us today? Tanker earnings have had a strong run since late 2014 but even so the VLCC price ratio stands only a little above 80%, maybe indicating that investor positivity is mixed with caution. Meanwhile, the bulker market is in severe recession and the Panamax price ratio has fallen from 95% during 2014 to 65%, showing how investors’ optimism has drained.

Lower Levels

The containership ratio, however, is on the up, with earnings recently improved. But it still stands at just 54%, perhaps indicating investors’ caution and relative preference for new tonnage. At boxships’ higher speeds, the difference in fuel efficiency between new and older tonnage is more marked, though the ratio was higher in the 2010-11 period when fresh interest arose in a sector that ‘looked cheap’.
Reading The Classics

So, price ratios are classic indicators, and as if it needed emphasising, today’s ratios show that the shipping markets aren’t perceived by investors to be close to full health yet. Overall sale and purchase volumes in the year to date are a little way behind last year’s levels, and the price ratios today might give an indication as to investors’ actual feelings about assets on the water. But markets change quickly, so just like classic cars which get taken out once in a while, it’s the same for classic indicators – and market watchers should probably take another reading soon. Have a nice day.