Archives for posts with tag: world economy

The global fixed platform “fleet” consists of over 7,700 installed structures, equivalent in unit terms to 58% of the mobile offshore fleet. Yet the significant role played by fixed platforms in generating requirement for offshore vessels and services (such as platform installation and IMR) is at times overshadowed by the role of the mobile offshore fleet. So what, then, is the current outlook for the fixed platform sector?

Back To Basics

Fixed platforms are immobile structures that are attached to the seabed and used to exploit offshore fields. All but 32 fixed platforms are located in water depths of less than 200m and the average water depth of the 7,744 installed units is 42m. Platforms usually consist of a ‘jacket’ (the legs) and ‘topsides’ (the decks), and are fabricated from steel, though concrete or wood have been used. Indeed, the first ever fixed platforms were wooden structures off California in the 1930s; these have been dismantled, but North America still accounts for 31% of the fixed platform “fleet”, a legacy of shallow water E&P in the GoM. Other major historical areas of fixed platform installation include the Middle East/ISC (15% of the fleet), SE Asia (22%) and the North Sea (7%). The North Sea is home to most larger structures, such as the 898,000t “Gullfaks C” gravity base platform. Most structures in areas like the Middle East and the US GoM, meanwhile, are at the opposite end of the scale – unmanned monopod/tripod wellhead platforms of less than 100t.

Construction Crunch

Historically, fixed platforms have been a core business area for a number of fabrication yards and EPCI companies. Installation of small structures tends to involve units like liftboats in the US GoM and crane barges in the Middle East. Larger structures (in the North Sea or West Africa) have required more robust transportation and heavy-lift vessels. At present though, the fabrication and installation outlook is subdued. As shown in the inset graph, 96 platforms were ordered in 2014, down 49% y-o-y; in 2015, 42 were ordered, down another 56% y-o-y. Most ordering has been for smaller units in the Middle East (14%, 2014-15) and SE Asia (39%): platforms like the 43,700t “Johan Sverdrup CPP” (North Sea) are exceptional. Reduced contracting is partly due to the weaker oil price, but it also reflects a longer term shift towards subsea developments and deepwater E&P.

A Shift To Services?

It seems, then, that outside of expansion projects in a few areas, the near term demand generated by fixed platforms is likely to be mainly from servicing existing units: facilities need maintaining, paint needs reapplication and so on. For example, long-term, multi-field IMR contracts have reportedly been awarded for platforms in the UK and Saudi Arabia in recent months. PSV and helicopter demand to supply manned platforms (and ERRV demand in the North Sea) will also persist unless fields are shut down. And even then, potential exists in platform removal: there are currently five planned decommissioning projects involving platforms, each project with a value of c.$400m.

So the fixed platform construction market is fairly challenged. But there are other ways in which fixed platforms can create opportunities. These may be quite niche or oblige EPCI companies to adapt, but with 7,744 units in place, the sector is in several regards still worth some attention.

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The rise of deepwater E&P constituted a boon for the offshore fleet, helping to drive, for example, 180% and 60% increases in the FPSO and floater fleets from 2000 to 2015. However, deepwater development has lagged exploration, and so the offshore sector is fairly exposed to projects with high breakevens – problematic, given the oil price. But could the downturn actually help deepwater E&P in the long term?

Deepwater Exploration

The first deepwater offshore discovery was not made until 1976, by which point 1,018 shallow water fields had been discovered and 350 brought onstream, and it was only in the late-1990s that deepwater E&P really took off. Oil companies began pushing deeper into the US GoM, while the internationalization of the industry in the 2000s saw a spate of deepwater discoveries off West Africa and Brazil. A robust and rising oil price helped sustain rising deepwater E&P until 2015, with India, Australia and East Africa becoming important frontiers too. The average water depth of global offshore field discoveries passed 200m for the first time in 1996, 500m in 2004 and 800m in 2012, and the number of deepwater discoveries averaged 55 per year from 2005 to 2015.

Deepwater Production

However, as the main graph shows, the mean water depth of discoveries rose much faster than did that of start-ups: the former stood at 734m in 2015, the latter at 377m. Indeed, by 2016, out of a total of 998 deepwater finds, just 27% had started up, with deepwater start-ups averaging 19 per year from 2005 to 2015. The divergence was in large part because technological barriers and cost overheads in deepwater production – subsea, SURF and MOPU – are more complex and expensive than in exploration, and efficiency gains seem to have been more limited to date as well. Deepwater project sanctioning was therefore relatively inhibited, and due to limited sanctioning, the backlog of undeveloped deepwater fields grew at a faster rate than that of shallow water fields, as indicated by the inset graph. Thus over time, the overall backlog of potential projects has become more costly and complex. Indeed, some reports suggest oil project average breakevens have risen by c.270% since 2003.

Deepwater Challenges

This is partly why the offshore outlook is challenged at present: deepwater fields have relatively high breakevens (usually $60-$90/bbl) yet also form a major part of oil companies’ portfolios. Some major oil companies have indicated that 2016 E&P spending cuts are to bite deeper off than onshore, where costs are lower (even for shale, in many cases). In January 2016, Chevron decided to axe outright Buckskin, a US GoM project in a water depth of 1,816m with a breakeven of c.$72/bbl. ConocoPhilips, meanwhile, is planning to exit deepwater altogether.

However, in order to make deepwater viable again, many companies are trying instead to cut project costs. Statoil, for example, has reduced the CAPEX of Johan Castberg by 48% and the breakeven by 40%. Some cost savings (in day rates, for instance) are likely to be cyclical; others, such as in subsea fabrication, yielding improved deepwater project economics, are likely to be more lasting. So while exposure to deepwater projects is clearly a challenge given the current oil price, cost cutting now could be to the benefit of deepwater E&P in the long run.

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For good or for bad, shipping market analysts have looked at trade growth ‘multipliers’ for many years. In 2015 global seaborne trade is estimated to have grown by 2.1%, in a year when the world economy grew by 3.1%. As a result the ratio of trade growth to global GDP expansion dropped below 1.0. What do trends in this ‘multiplier’ mean for shipping in a wider context?

Multiple Storylines

Whilst hardly an advisable way to project trade growth for a specific year (year to year the statistics are notoriously volatile), examining the ratio between world seaborne trade growth and the expansion of world GDP (‘the multiplier’) over longer time periods tells us something about the key demand drivers in shipping. As the graph shows, in the period 1990-94 the multiplier averaged 1.3 and in 1995-2010 averaged 1.1.

There were a number of drivers behind this ‘top up’ effect. The increasingly globalised economy supported growth in world trade which benefitted seaborne traffic. In the 2000s, outsourcing of production from more mature regions to distant developing world locations and then shipping goods back to consumers also generated a multiplier effect, and speedy economic growth in China hoovered up raw material cargoes at a rapid rate (maintaining support for the multiplier above the diminishing long-term trend).

Boxes’ Big Top Up

Container trade is one specific area where the multiplier has come into very clear focus. Across 1995-2010 the ratio of container trade growth to world GDP expansion averaged a robust 2.3. Global trends and outsourcing supported this too, backed by other drivers. Trade in box-friendly manufactures was a fast growing part of overall trade, containerization of general cargoes continued to provide a boost, and multi-location component processing of manufactures became the norm in Asia, supported by wage differentials and cheap box shipping.

Looking For Support?

But these multipliers have been sliding. Across 2011-16 the seaborne trade multiplier averaged less than 1.0, and the box trade multiplier just 1.3. 2015 marked a particularly weak year, with the respective figures at 0.7 and 0.8. Something is missing from the drivers previously providing the top up to economic growth. World sea trade grew by just 2.1% last year; Chinese growth rates and raw material imports have slowed, outsourcing may have peaked, and containerization is more complete than not. Multipliers have slowed; nothing lasts forever and some of the old supports appear to be no longer there. The industry will be hoping that a golden age has not just passed by.

However whilst some drivers may have run their course, others are still going strong and 2015 might not be totally representative of the trend. The economy is as global as ever with ‘Factory Asia’ still at the centre of production supporting intra-regional activity. And might there still be huge potential to unlock? Developing world consumers account for 1.2 tonnes of seaborne imports per person, leaving them a long way to go to catch up with the developed world (3.1 tonnes). The shipping industry will be looking that way for its next top up. Have a nice day.

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In the nativity story, the three ‘Wise Men’ each come bearing a gift for the baby Jesus. Today, gifts are more likely to have been transported by containership than by camel, but the boxship market itself has still been subject to a number of demand-side ‘humps’ this year. Unwrapping these trends suggests three rather unwelcome ‘gifts’ that the containership market has received in 2015.

Gifts From The East

Prior to the last 7 years, container trade growth had been rapid, averaging 9.6% per annum in 1996 to 2007 – an astonishing performance given the average 4.1% per annum expansion in global seaborne trade in the same period. Box trade flourished, as further cargoes were containerised and manufacturing was rapidly outsourced from the west to Asia (particularly in the 2000s). Container shipping became the planet’s chosen (low cost) way for moving general cargo around. The first major blip in the story was in 2009, when box trade fell for the first time in the history of containerisation, dropping 10% on the back of the global economic downturn. 2015 currently looks set to be the worst year since then, with trade growth expected to reach just 2.5%.

Hardly Gold

Three key factors have driven slower trade growth this year. The first is the contraction of the key Far East-Europe trade, reflecting a combination of the weak euro, continued challenging economic conditions in some European nations, and a stark fall in Russian volumes. It seems that this year has also seen some inventory de-stocking, bolstering the downward trend. Peak leg Far East-Europe trade is projected to drop by 3.8% in 2015, limiting total expansion in mainlane trade to around 0.4% this year.

The second factor has been the slowdown in the estimated rate of growth in intra-Asian volumes. This is an important bloc of container trade (around 50m teu) and has been one of the fastest growing parts in recent years. This year, the turbulence and slowing rate of growth in the Chinese economy, combined with issues in other Asian economies, has seen the estimated rate of intra-Asian growth slow in 2015, with total intra-regional trade now projected to grow by 3.6% this year, down from 6.0% in 2014.

Looking Myrrh-ky

Thirdly, the collapse in commodity prices, including crude oil, has had a heavily deleterious impact on box volumes into economies particularly dependent on commodity exports for income. Notably, growth in box imports into economies in Africa and South America have slowed, and total North-South trade is now expected to grow by only 1.8% this year, whilst Middle Eastern imports are also coming under pressure.

Frankly Incensed

So the world of container trade has indeed received three ‘gifts’ this year, but the outcome for containership demand has not been a joyful story. The Christmas season is usually prime time for thoughts of presents shipped by container around the world, but it seems that the boxship sector may have to wait beyond this year’s festivities to find a brighter-looking star on the horizon.

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Bulkcarrier investors are generally an optimistic lot, with little time for pessimistic analysts. They know that however gloomy the forecasts, some time they will make a nice profit. After all, the ships last 30 years, especially small bulkers and a lot can happen in that time. But occasionally even they get gloomy and that seems to have happened today.

Bottom Fishing For A Bonus

It’s easy to see why. The Baltic Dry Index has hit all-time lows and Capesizes, which were supposed to be gold-plated investments in a world dominated by China, are looking decidedly tarnished. Nearly new ships have been chartering for well under $10,000/day and it’s been going on for a long time. These moments of deep negative sentiment are often a good time to invest, especially if finance is in short supply. It happened in 1986 when a new Panamax bulker cost $13.5m and a 5 year old ship cost $6m, and again in 1999 when new Panamax prices slumped below $20m and a 5 year old ship was sold for $13.5m. 10 years later these ships became profitable beyond the dreams of even the most optimistic investors, grossing over $100m in earnings and capital gains. Could this be another magic moment?

Gut-Based Gambling

Deep negative sentiment generally occurs when everything goes wrong at the same time. In the 1980s the world economy went into deep recession after the second oil crisis. Surplus bulker capacity was topped up by heavy deliveries, which the closure of shipyards did little to neutralise. Banks were too preoccupied with defaulting clients to consider new loans. In 1997-99 the Asia crisis, which coincided with a surge of deliveries after the brief 1995 bulker boom, left investors wondering if they would ever see light at the end of the tunnel. China was not even on the radar.

Today’s bulker outlook is also gloomy. The global steel industry is under immense pressure, and an increasing focus on clean energy is souring the outlook for coal consumption. Chinese dry bulk imports have dropped, and prospects for Indian coal imports have also worsened. So after a decade when seaborne dry bulk grew at nearly 200mt a year, in 2015 trade is set to decline. Meanwhile the surplus is being topped up by deliveries.

Searching For Silver

But there are a few positives. Cheap oil at $40/bbl is putting money in everyone’s pocket. Bulker ordering has slumped to 13m dwt this year; demolition is up 70%; fleet growth is down to 3%; and China seems keen on its ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, which could add to trade.

The Magic Number?

So there you have it. But there is one other interesting factor to consider. Somehow the tanker sector is generating very impressive earnings in a market which, on the basis of fundamental analysis, is also carrying surplus capacity. Slow steaming can help, and maybe that’s good advice. This may not be a magic moment like 1999, but, take it easy, keep your eyes open and maybe there’s a silver lining somewhere out there for the right ship. Have a nice day.

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Once upon a time, in Germanic languages the number 1,200 represented ‘the long thousand’ and was a traditional way of measuring large numbers. Well, today Shipping Intelligence Weekly is 1,200 issues old, and that seems like a long time indeed. How have the shipping markets fared in that time and what do the ‘long cycles’ show when the ‘SIW era’ is split into parts?

A Long, Long Time Ago

The 1,199 previous editions of SIW (stretching over 22 years back to 1992) provide us with a huge amount of useful historical data, including the ClarkSea Index, our weekly indicator measuring the health of earnings in the four main shipping markets. There are many ways in which the history of the index can be analysed but one interesting view can be generated by lining up historical ‘cycles’. The graph featured here shows the result of lining up two periods of 400 SIW issues (about 8 years each) and comparing them to the performance of the index over 300 issues (6 years) since then. What this seems to tell us is that after 300 issues of the first two cycles something pretty dramatic happens!

Moving Along

Looking at the first period, issues 100-400 don’t show a great deal of variation in terms of what was to follow. Between January 1994 and December 1999 the index peaked at $15,149/day and the lowest point was $8,679/day. However, following issue 400, the index took off, peaking at $24,395/day in early 2001, before crashing back down later in the year to $8,877/day by December 2001 as the dotcom bubble collapsed, and the impact of problems in Asia and 9/11 were felt by the global economy.

A Long Time Coming

The second period really illustrates shipping’s great ‘super-boom’. Just prior to issue 500, China joined the WTO and global trade took off. On the back of rapid demand growth driven by Asia, the index headed up from around $9,000/day in late 2001 to a record peak of $50,701/day in December 2007, bang on issue 800! This time the cycle held on past 300 issues and the peak was almost regained in May 2008, but drama was just around the corner in the form of the ‘Credit Crunch’. By April 2009 the index had plummeted to $7,442/day.

How Long Will It Go On?

The last 300 issues have seen the ‘long downturn’ with substantial deliveries of new capacity and the index stuck between $20,681/day and $7,520/day (a bit like the 1990s). Despite the index surpassing $18,000/day this year there’s been no sustained respite from the downturn yet, and as of issue 1,199 (last week) the index had fallen back to $13,348/day.

Won’t Stop For Long

So, the previous two periods definitely offered up drama after 300 issues. Today, we’re at a crossroads again. Supply growth looks to be under some degree of control at last but the big story of 2015 has been the erosion of demand side growth with seaborne trade expansion slowing to around 2%. There are a range of possible scenarios but one thing is for sure: nothing stops for long in shipping.

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In the 1989 film Back to the Future II, Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelled forwards in time to 21st October 2015. While the film’s view of future technology has in many cases proved surprisingly accurate, today’s lack of hoverboards, flying cars and pizza hydrators suggests some were way off the mark. Such mixed success will likely seem very familiar to anyone attempting shipping market predictions today.

This Is Heavy, Doc

It is well documented that the incredible volatility in the shipping markets makes them very difficult to predict, even to seasoned market watchers, and so it can often be easier to try to predict the fundamentals. While Back to the Future II successfully predicted the broad trend towards the more widespread role of technology in everyday life, even the ‘big picture’ macro trends in the shipping industry can be hard to get totally right.

Not much seems ‘bigger picture’ than the world economy, and here forecasters have certainly revised their opinions over time. Taking the IMF’s views as a reasonable benchmark, it is clear how the projection for world economic growth in 2015 has moderated, from 4.0% in April 2014 to 3.1% in October 2015, as the outlook for global expansion has softened. The world also notoriously got it wrong on the oil price outlook. Throughout much of 2014, most expectations for oil prices in 2015 were for an average of above $100/bbl. But the crash in prices in late 2014 led to a major adjustment in future expectations, with most forecasters now projecting average prices in full year 2015 of around $60/bbl or below.

Time Circuits, On!

Pinning down forecasts for the big shipping aggregates can also be hard. Views of world seaborne trade in 2015 have recently changed significantly. In early 2015, the expectation for growth this year was 4.0%. However, following dramatic changes in imports of coal and iron ore into China, as well as a gradually more depressed outlook for container trade, the latest forecast for world seaborne trade growth in 2015 stands at 2.5%.

Speeding Up To 88mph

Even on the supply side, it can be hard to forecast with absolute precision. In early 2014, the estimate for growth in the world cargo fleet in 2015 (in terms of GT) stood at 3.5%. In early 2015, this rose to 4.2% as the likely outlook for deliveries and demolition changed, but with scrapping accelerating and then slowing again the outlook has changed once more. Today, the projection for growth in the cargo fleet is 3.9%, hopefully a fairly accurate figure with three-quarters of the year gone.

You Mean We’re In The Future?

So, what does this all tell us? Macroeconomic trends are notoriously hard to predict. Today, with the consensus outlook increasingly fragmented, the margin of error in forecasting seaborne demand is also significant. And even then the supply side can be tricky to pinpoint too. So, while forecasts of the fundamental balance do provide a helpful indication of expectations for future market trends, these should always be handled with caution. Marty and Doc might well be amongst the first to agree that the future doesn’t always turn out how you might expect. Have a nice day.

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