'Keep Calm and Carry On' was originally a motivational poster, intended to raise the morale of the British public, produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War. In today's shipping environment where the daily headlines are in the likes of “excess vessel supply continues to weigh on the dry bulk market” and “slower growth in steel output and reduced coal demand contribute to a declining freight rate environment”, we also need all the motivation we can get. Companies’ revenues have declined and many operators are in the red, some are chopping charter rates, we hear about bankruptcies, restructurings and anyone can easily paint a very bleak outlook for the next couple of years.
According to the IMF, global growth in 2014 was 3.3% and in 2015 - 2016 it is projected to be 3.5 and 3.7 percent respectively. It is notable that the 2015-16 projections were revised downwards by 0.3% in October 2014, reflecting the reassessment of prospects in China, Russia, the euro area, and Japan, as well as weaker activity in some major oil exporters because of the sharp drop in oil prices. The United States is the only major economy for which growth projections have been raised.
In January 2014 the dry bulk fleet (over 20,000 tons dwt) stood at 8,979 vessels or 697,63million tons deadweight. During 2014 the net growth (deliveries/additions minus demolitions/removals) was 5% in terms of deadweight (a closer proxy to the carrying capacity). Given the fact that there is high correlation between global growth and seaborne trade, unless the GDP growth is higher than the fleet growth, then simply put “the ships are always too many for the cargoes”. With the world growth at 3.3% in 2014 it is evident that the world fleet has been under-utilised and supply has exceeded demand.
In 2015 demolition levels and slippage/cancellations/conversions will be the key. Let’s look at some numbers. The current dry fleet is at 737.65 million tons deadweight while the dry order book for 2015 stands at 69 million tons deadweight. Assuming that only 80% of this will be delivered (due to slippage, cancellations, conversions etc.) the increase will be 55.2 million tons deadweight. If demolition activity, which has kicked off the year encouragingly, ends up being similar to the levels of 2012, it will be a huge relief valve. In 2012 according to our data about 30 million tons dwt was scrapped so if this repeats, the net growth of the fleet will be about 25 million tons dwt or 3.4%. This is quite marginal against the projected global growth for 2015 but it may very well signal a balanced supply-demand outlook. So any upside on either the supply (more cancellations, more demolition) or the demand side (the boost to global demand from lower oil prices could be greater than is currently factored into the projections) can reverse the current situation.
The obvious question is if demolition activity can indeed reach 2012 levels. Well, the fleet of ships older than 25 years stands at 29.4 million tonnes i.e. a shade lower than the “required” volume that needs to be scrapped; another 40 million tonnes deadweight are the ships between 20-25 years. In the first two months of 2015, we have already seen much younger vessels sent for scrap. So the relief valve is there and needs to be kept open. Upcoming regulations that will require the ship owners to invest in upgrading their assets will also help in that direction since older assets will not be worth the investment.
So there you have it, there is a quite plausible scenario that can play out this year that can shift things towards the right direction and as long as a series of logical events occur, then we may be looking at a stronger and more balanced second half of 2015. So, keep calm and invest in dry.
Head to Intermodal's website and sign up for the complete market report and a run down of each sector.