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Strong Test for Shipping and the World Economy

The effect and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic will be a strong test for both the shipping industry, but also the world economy and trade. In a recent weekly report, Allied Shipbroking noted that “it might be already overstated, but it seems to be important to point out once again how peculiar the current circumstances are. Before the start of the year, it was one of the favorite topics amongst participants in the shipping industry how challenging 2020 would be. However, no one could have guessed the level of this challenge”.

According to Allied’s Thomas Chasapis, Research Analyst, “with some certainty, we can argue that Covid-19 spread will be a strong test, from a social, as well as an economical perspective. Instead of making further assumptions as to how the virus outbreak may or may not affect different market aspects, we could take things from a different angle and view hoping to better understand how different mechanisms are currently reacting to this unique situation. The global economic slowdown seems to be the inevitable outcome, emphatically evident from the recent trends being portrayed in global markets. Beyond this, the real question is as to how big this step back will eventually be”.

“Week over week all forecasts regarding economic development and macroeconomic trends seem very prone to downward revisions, given that the virus spread seems to be more dynamic and unpredictable as time goes by. A glimpse of optimism was noted during the past weeks, given the decreasing rate of new cases testing positive to the COVID-19 virus in China. However, witnessing the hefty growth in cases reported in Italy (and across Europe), a strong wave of doubt and uncertainty has firmly hit the general economic environment. The discussions surrounding a wider quantitative easing will certainly help stabilize financial markets, a tool that has helped in many cases of severe downward pressure in the past”, Chasapis said.

He added that “regardless though of the effort made by central institutions and given the unpredictable time duration of this tail risk, it will eventually be a unique test as to the credit risks present in the financial industry. Furthermore, witnessing the steep collapse of more than 30% in oil price, the scene has become even more volatile. Theoretically, “cheap” oil would be a boost for growth and consumer spending power. However, when overall demand is, to say the least, fragile, in what way this “abundant” supply could affect the real economy seems rather questionable”.

“How does all the above translate over to the shipping industry? Certainly, the anticipation of a major step back in economic growth (which means respectively a significant slowdown in seaborne trade), can’t be under any case be considered a “good” sign. A somehow opposing argument to this is the fact that dry FFA long-term contracts have increased since the beginning of the year. Maybe, this is just an optimistic opinion shared by a small minority, or maybe the fundamentals are strong, and this periodical affect is unrelated to the macro economical prospect of the dry bulk sector. In any case, given the mixed macroeconomic environment, it would be wise to focus for the time being on the near-term picture noted in the dry bulk sector. The past couple of weeks the market seems to be in a state of transition, seemingly in a process of recovering from a freight market bottom (especially for the medium size segments – Panamaxes and Supramaxes). Time is the key variable here. As the virus spread doesn’t seem to be yet under check, sentiment will turn ever more negative, while extra pressure will be applied to cash reserves and cash flows as well as to daily operating activities. On the other hand, the window of a steeper upward potential is growing, given the higher slippage rate of cargo volumes that potentially could take shape. This may well mean that we could see exaggerated returns take place from the early onset of the summer period”, Allied’s analyst concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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