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Macroeconomic and Political Tensions Preventing Shipping’s Further Rebound

Dry bulk freight rates could be even higher than they now, as a result of increasing trade tensions and political instability around the world. In a recent weekly note, shipbroker Intermodal said that “a recovery in the shipping market since last year has buoyed optimism amongst the people in the industry. Yet if you are to ask most ship-owners if they are happy with the market, you will get a reply “mmmh… not really…”. The market hike seems to have hit a ceiling the past months and whilst the ship earnings have doubled or tripled compared to two years ago, they still seem to be just a touch (?) away from their break-even. Also, opposite to the common belief, during the past few months instead of further improvement we have seen a lot of volatility and a resistance to get to higher levels”.

According to Mr. Theodore Ntalakos, SnP Broker, “on the ship supply side, the world fleet has increased by 181 vessels since last year corresponding to a marginal growth of just below 2%. This moderate fleet increase versus four percent global growth has no doubt been a major driver of the recovery. Looking forward, there has been some order replenishment and in fact the orderbook is today bigger than what it was a year ago; about half of the new orders are Kamsarmaxes, generating some concerns on over ordering and affecting an already fragile market. On the other hand we can easily argue that the environmental regulations that are coming into force over the next couple of years, will call on owners to make substantial investments in their assets and we don’t expect them to upgrade their older vessels. Current orderbook – not including slippage/cancellations – stands at 8.5% of the world fleet and with 9% of the fleet being over 20 years old you have a good release valve to balance the new deliveries”.

Ntalakos added that “on the other side of the equation there still is a growing demand for seaborne transportation. The population continues to expand, emerging countries continue to absorb shipping goods and raw materials, so – still being the most fuel efficient and environment friendly form of commercial transport – seaborne trade will continue to grow; this is a fact. On the other hand, shipping is inherently correlated to the world economy, so the trade contraction from trade wars, may translate into reduction in demand for shipping, and although China is no longer growing at eight or ten percent annually, it’s still leading the demand for tonne miles. To put it simply, the demand is under short term shakedown from president Trump. Up until today, the markets have been on wait-and-see mode whether the threats are valid and how far the confrontation will go. The US president’s tariffs have been met with Chinese retaliation and Beijing administration confident that they can cope with full scale trade war”.

“So, although we don’t see a ceiling, since there seem to be strong fundamentals for the market to improve further, we are now on a kind of a plateau whereby there are economic as well as political reasons that are preventing markets to improve further. For shipping we believe that this will work in its favour in the longer term as, although it’s a good entry point for investments and the upside is there, it makes the ship-owners more careful, patient and they avoid overreactions. This situation should also remind everybody that shipping is an infinite game and the objective of the players – both know and unknown – is to perpetuate the game”, Ntalakos concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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