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Will History Repeat Itself in This Shipping Cycle?

Saturday, 11 February 2012 | 00:00
A slightly dubious "best man" joke runs as follows… Best man (giving his wedding speech): "Have you noticed how history repeats itself? 25 years ago Daisy's (the bride) parents were putting her to bed with a dummy. 25 years later they're doing exactly the same thing". Luckily, almost any joke gets a laugh at a wedding. But, as the English proverb says, "many a truth is spoken in jest". Historic Developments. Shipping today does not have much to joke about. 2012 opened with weakening freight rates, and the Clarksea index ended January at $8,585/day, the lowest since the index started in 1990. But the market has dipped to similar levels three other times. The first was in May/June 1992 when it bottomed out at $8700/ day. The second was April 1999 when it fell to $8732/day and the third when it slumped to $8,698/day in January 2002. Does this mean the market has hit bottom?
Repeating History Hopefully?
Let’s take a look at what happened after the market bottomed out on the last three occasions. To do this we track the Clarksea Index during the 12 months before and after the trough.
Trough 1 bottomed at $8717/day in June 1992. Over the next 12 months it recovered by 27% to $11,100 a day, not a boom, but a worthwhile improvement. Trough 2 bottomed out at $8,732/ day. The recovery was gradual at first, edging up $10,000/day over six months. Then the market took off and by April 2000 the index was up to $14,600/day, a 67% increase. Finally Trough 3, which bottomed out at $8,698/day in January 2002, followed a similar recovery path to the previous cycle, edging up to $16,300 a day by January 2003.
The Next Cycle – A Dummy?
Turning to Trough 4, the last 12 months followed a similar pattern to Troughs 1&2. A year ago the Clarksea index was $11,161/day, and it edged down to $8,585/day last month. But where does it go from here? History suggests that it should improve by 25% to 66% over the next 12 months. But, unfortunately, market cycles are driven by fundamentals, not history. During the 12 months following the last three troughs, seaborne trade grew by 5- 6% per annum. This year, we think 4% growth would be a pretty good outcome. Admittedly that is not a very significant difference. But on the supply-side the difference is substantial. At the trough of the last three cycles shipbuilding deliveries were 3-6% of the world fleet. Currently deliveries are running at 11% of the world fleet.
Honeymoon Over?
So there you have it. The history of the last three cycles suggests an improvement in the Clarksea Index over the next 12 months, but the fundamentals tell a different story. The big question is what to do about it? Our “best man’s” advice is this. If you are put to bed with a dummy, there’s only one thing you can do. Make the most of it. Have a nice day.
Source: Clarksons
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