Bulk shippers hit by perfect storm as global economic doldrums take toll

Posted by Joseph R Fonseca
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Photo Nordic Bulk Carriers

Off the coast of a nearly deserted island below the southern tip of Hong Kong, at least 10 massive ships that normally carry hundreds of thousands of tons of coal or iron ore lie idle near one of the world's busiest sea routes.

These empty vessels paint a grim picture for the dry bulk shipping business that veterans of the industry say is grappling with an unprecedented crisis of too many ships and not enough cargoes. The hollow boats underscore the global economic doldrums that policymakers are struggling to overcome.

"This is the worst we have seen in recent times. We have been hit by a perfect storm - huge order books, China slowdown, the end of quantitative easing, lurking European monetary crisis, glut in oil and commodity prices," said Kaushik Neogy, a commercial manager at Wallem Commercial Services in Hong Kong.

Shipping is a cyclical business that is often at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of the global economy. However, the dry bulk sector has been dashed upon the rocks of vessel oversupply and slowing economic growth.

The industry has suffered from large capital inflows from private equity players who invested in ships in a bet on sustained demand from emerging markets, particularly China. Instead, the world's second-largest economy is growing at its slowest pace in 25 years, reducing the need for the coal and iron ore that fuels its manufacturing sector.

The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index, which tracks rates for ships carrying dry bulk commodities, has lost about 98 percent of its value from a peak of 11,793 points in May 2008, marking the lowest level since records began in 1985.

"This is pretty much the worst I have seen in my career," said Tim Huxley, chief executive officer of Hong Kong-based Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, who has been in the business for over 30 years. "For the bulk carrier industry, this is going to be a grim year and next year is not going to be any better."

At the height of the market, dry bulk vessels could command daily fees of about $185,000 but that has dropped to about $4,000 to $6,000 a day now.

With operating costs for dry bulk ships at about $5,500 to $7,500 per day, depending on the size of the vessel, the global commodities meltdown has made it hard for many operators to cover costs.

CHINA IMPORTS DROPPING

Vessel rates are unlikely to recover soon especially as China's voracious appetite for coal and iron ore slows.

Coal imports to China may drop 8 percent this year to 152.1 million tonnes, according a forecast from shipping services firm Clarkson. Shipments of coal, both for power generation and steel making, have plunged since 2013 when they reached 264.9 million tonnes.

China's monthly iron ore imports peaked at a record 96.27 million tonnes last December but then dropped 14.6 percent to 82.19 million tonnes in January this year, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

The decline suggests annual imports may have peaked in 2015 at 952 million tonnes as production at China's steel mills has slowed. In contrast, India imported just 15 million tonnes in 2015.

There are no signs of an economic pick-up any time soon. Last month, the International Monetary Fund cut its global growth forecasts for the third time in less than a year to 3.4 percent, while money managers in a Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey this week said a U.S. recession is the biggest unlikely risk they are worried about.

While demand for bulk shippers has slumped, supply has scarcely blinked. Clarkson calculate the total global fleet capacity at 1.81 billion deadweight tonnes with a further 300 million tonnes of capacity coming on line over the next three to four years, the result of a hangover of the boom years when shipping was profitable.

Wah Kwong's Huxley believes the industry is losing up to $20 billion a year in operating costs. The losses are pushing smaller companies such as Oslo-headquartered Western Bulk to sell parts of their business while others take the merger route to create giants to grab market share.

China's government drove the merger of former rivals China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company and China Shipping Group to create China Cosco Shipping Corporation (COSCOCS). At an event in Shanghai on Thursday, Xu Lirong, the chairman of the newly formed company, acknowledged this is the most difficult period the shipping industry is experiencing since the financial crisis.

"The merger is crucial to the development of both companies," said Xu.

(Reporting by Saikat Chatterjee and Tara Joseph in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Keith Wallis in SINGAPORE; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Christian Schmollinger)
 

Maritime Today


The Maritime Industry's original and most viewed E-News Service

Maritime Reporter June 2016 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Bulk Carrier Trends

Essberger Fleet Moves to Marlink’s Sealink VSAT Service

The Hamburg headquartered John T. Essberger (JTE) Group will migrate the primary communication systems of its entire fleet to Sealink, Marlink’s global maritime broadband VSAT service.

Baltic Index Rises for Fifth Consecutive Session

The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index, tracking rates for ships carrying dry bulk commodities, rose on Tuesday for a fifth straight session on stronger demand across all vessel segments.

Diana Shipping Enters Contract with SwissMarine

Diana Shipping Inc., through a separate wholly-owned subsidiary, has entered into a time charter contract with SwissMarine Services S.A., Geneva, for one of its Ice Class Panamax dry bulk vessels,

Finance

Baltic Index Rises for Fifth Consecutive Session

The Baltic Exchange's main sea freight index, tracking rates for ships carrying dry bulk commodities, rose on Tuesday for a fifth straight session on stronger demand across all vessel segments.

Singapore Exchange, Baltic Exchange Continue Transaction Talks

Singapore Exchange (SGX) has agreed with the Baltic Exchange Limited (Baltic Exchange) to extend the period of exclusive discussions regarding a cash offer for

Hanjin to Return 38 Vessels Next Year

Hanjin Shipping is planning to return a total of 38 chartered vessels once their contracts end as part of its restructuring efforts, reports the Korea Herald. A

News

Fundraiser Held for USS Gerald R. Ford Crew

Blackmer, a company in positive displacement and centrifugal pump and reciprocating compressor technologies, has a relationship with the U.S. Military that dates

Gas Plant Fire Halts US Gulf Coast Platforms

At least two offshore oil platforms halted operations on Tuesday in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico after a fire at a natural gas processing plant in Mississippi shut a

Meercat Workboats Scores a Hat-trick

The U.K.’s Meercat Workboats says it scored a hat-trick; the Hampshire-based boat builder announced it is moving premises, that Seawork was a huge success and that

People in the News

Fundraiser Held for USS Gerald R. Ford Crew

Blackmer, a company in positive displacement and centrifugal pump and reciprocating compressor technologies, has a relationship with the U.S. Military that dates

Charting the Shift of Oceanic Boundary Currents

Global warming results in fundamental changes to important ocean currents. As scientists from the Alfred-Wegener-Institute show in a new study, wind-driven subtropical

Evinrude Expands E-Tec G2 Horsepower

BRP (TSX:DOO)announced today the release of the next generation of Evinrude E-TEC G2 models with horsepower ranging from 150 to 200, the E-TEC G2 150, 150 H.O., 175 and 200.

 
 
Maritime Security Naval Architecture Offshore Oil Pipelines Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Repair Ship Simulators Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Sonar
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.0921 sec (11 req/sec)