Archives for posts with tag: vessel earnings

The shipping markets have in the main been pretty icy since the onset of the global economic downturn back in 2008, but 2016 has seen a particular blast of cold air rattle through the shipping industry, with few sectors escaping the frosty grasp of the downturn. Asset investment equally appears to have been frozen close to stasis. So, can we measure how cold things have really been?

Lack Of Heat

Generally, our ClarkSea Index provides a helpful way to take the temperature of industry earnings, measuring the performance of the key ‘volume’ market sectors (tankers, bulkers, boxships and gas carriers). Since the start of Q4 2008 it has averaged $11,948/day, compared to $23,666/day between the start of 2000 and the end of Q3 2008. However, earnings aren’t the only thing that can provide ‘heat’ in shipping. Investor appetite for vessel acquisition has often added ‘heat’ to the market in the form of investment in newbuild or secondhand tonnage, even when, as in 2013, earnings remained challenged. To examine this, we once again revisit the quarterly ‘Shipping Heat Index’, which reflects not only vessel earnings but also investment activity, to see how iced up 2016 has really been.

Fresh Heat?

This year, we’ve tweaked the index a little, to include historical newbuild and secondhand asset investment in terms of value, rather than just the pure number of units. This helps us better put the level of ‘Shipping Heat’ in context. In these terms, shipping appears to be as cold (if not more so) as back in early 2009. This year the ‘Heat Index’ has averaged 36, standing at 34 in Q4 2016, which compares to a four-quarter average of 43 between Q4 2008 and Q3 2009.

Feeling The Chill

Partly, of course, this reflects the earnings environment. The ClarkSea Index has averaged $9,329/day in the year to date and is on track for the lowest annual average in 30 years. In August 2016, the index hit $7,073/day, with the major shipping markets all under severe pressure.

All Iced Up

The investment side has seen the temperature drop even further. Newbuilding contracts have numbered just 419 in the first eleven months of 2016, heading for the lowest annual total in over 30 years, and newbuild investment value has totalled just $30.9bn. Weak volume sector markets, as well as a frozen stiff offshore sector, have by far outweighed positivity in some of the niche sectors (50% of the value of newbuild investment this year has been in cruise ships). S&P volumes have been fairly steady, but the reported aggregate value is down at $11.2bn. All this has led to the ‘Shipping Heat Index’ dropping down below its 2009 low-point.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

So, in today’s challenging markets the heat is once again absent from shipping. And, in fact, on taking the temperature, things are just as icy as they were back in 2008-09 when the cold winds of recession blew in. This year has shown that after years out in the cold, it’s pretty hard for things not to get frozen up. Let’s hope for some warmer conditions in 2017.


Shipping is a cyclical business. For many years, Clarksons Research has tracked the ups and downs of its cycles via the ClarkSea Index, a weighted average of vessel earnings in the main shipping sectors.  In the first half of August, the index averaged less than $7,500/day, around 60% down on July 2015’s ‘mini-peak’, with most sectors having weakened. But how long should one expect a downturn to last?


As summer 2016 has progressed, owners could be forgiven an element of downturn fatigue. Average bulkcarrier earnings from January to July 2016 were 21% down year-on-year, whilst the equivalent containership index fell by 37%. Average weighted LPG carrier earnings lost 49%. Even the tanker sector, which had been buoyed by lower oil prices stimulating demand, was down by 35% in terms of its component element of the ClarkSea Index. Both crude and product tanker earnings levels have softened over the course of Q2 2016.

Nor is the decline restricted to the major sectors. Offshore drilling rig dayrates are down by a further 30% or so year-on-year, and OSV term rates about the same amount. LNG carrier spot charter rates are 24% lower. Multi-purpose vessel charter rates have also come under further pressure. Amongst the few areas to have shown signs of improvement have been the ro-ro and ferry markets, but these are far from volume sectors.


So, the industry is undergoing a downturn, and it would be reasonable to ask: how long might the pain last for? Clearly, there are external macro-economic factors, such as the policies of the Chinese state, actions by OPEC or the effects of the Brexit decision, which might have specific influences on the future. However, perhaps past cycles could provide an indication. As the graph shows, the progress of the current weaker market has followed the trend of some previous downward moves – with the clear exception of the 2008-09 crash.

…And Emotional

The graph shows that, over the last 25 years, major downward movements in the ClarkSea Index have tended to begin to be reversed around a year to eighteen months after they began. Of course, the picture is complicated by seasonal factors. Additionally, a “dead-cat bounce” is also never off the cards: for example, the first signs of recovery in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. This improvement, between the one and two year marks on the graph, was quickly snuffed out, partly by the heavy ordering of bulkcarriers, helping to prevent a continued recovery along a similar trajectory to previous cycles.

In 2016, the market has probably learnt this lesson, with newbuild ordering numbers lower than at any point in the last two decades. Other actions are also being taken to try to turn the market balance around: ‘non-delivery’ of newbuild tonnage in the first seven months stands at 45%, whilst owners scrapped 30.2m dwt, 33% up when annualised with potential to get close to the record of 58.4m dwt set in 2012. So, it is possible that the index may follow previous trends, and begin to reverse course. But as well as a more controlled supply side, short-term demand will also help determine whether the market stalls, or can embark on the road to recovery. Have a nice holiday.

SIW1235 Graph of the Week