The number of major banks involved in the shipping industry has decreased substantially over the last few years. According to Michael Parker, managing director of Citibank, this is just one of many sectors hit by the ongoing consolidation trend in the shipping arena. "Banks can not live on interest margin alone without a substantial rise in spreads. They are having to look for other revenues/fees," said Parker, speaking at the LSE Shipping Finance Conference in London on November 14-15, 2000.
Mergers in the banking sector such as Chase and JP Morgan, and Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, are illustrative of the fever of consolidation that has also spread into the bulk, P&I, classification, ports and e-commerce sectors. Parker cites globalization, low interest rates, deregulation and low inflation expectations as some of the main drivers behind the trend to consolidate. "The shipping industry is clearly consolidating. This trend, if not unstoppable, is certainly irreversible," he told delegates at the conference.
Small owners have also been hit by the wave of consolidation. "Although they will not face extinction, the existence of small shipowners will
become increasingly difficult," says Parker, blaming a fragmented industry and substantial market inefficiencies for keeping the costs of staying in the industry too high for some.
Also speaking at the two-day event, Peter Antturi, chief executive officer of Teekay Shipping Corporation, said that although the structure of the tanker industry is changing, consolidation has been slow due to low growth in the oil tanker trades. The main developments in the tanker industry include oil company mergers, increasing preference for contracts of affreightment, and increasing environmental sensitivity and regulations. This latter point is just one of many that is significantly increasing the cost of operating tankers in all parts of the world, particularly putting the squeeze on smaller players.