Our first record to report came in August when the ClarkSea Index hit a post-1990 low of $7,073/day. Its average for the year was $9,441/day, down 35% y-o-y and also beating the previous cyclical lows in 2010 and 1999. With OPEX for the same basket of ships at $6,394/day, margins were thin or non-existent.
Across sectors, average tanker earnings for the year were “OK” but still wound down by 40%, albeit from an excellent 2015. Despite a good start and end to the year, the wet markets were hit hard by a weak summer when production outages impacted. The early part of the year also brought us another unwelcome milestone: the Baltic Dry Index falling to an all time low of 291. Heavy demolition in the first half and better than expected Chinese trade helped later in the year – fundamentals may be starting to turn but perhaps taking time to play out with bumps on the way. The container market (see next week) had another tough year, including its first major corporate casualty for 30 years in Hanjin. LPG had a “hard” landing after a stellar 2015, LNG showed small improvements and specialised products started to ease back. As reported in our mid-year review, every “dog has its day” and in 2016, this was Ro-Ro and Ferry, with earnings 50% above the trend since 2009. Also spare a thought for the offshore sector, arguably facing an even more extreme scenario than shipping.
Buy, Buy, Buy….
In our review of 2015, we speculated that buyers might be “eyeing up a bottoming out dry cycle” in 2016 and a 24% increase in bulker tonnage bought and sold suggests a lot of owners agreed. Indeed, 44m dwt represents another all time record for bulker S&P, with prices increasing marginally after the first quarter and brokers regularly reporting numerous parties willing to inspect vessels coming for sale. Tanker investors were much more circumspect and volumes and prices both fell by a third. Greeks again topped the buyer charts, followed by the Chinese. Demo eased in 2H but (incl. containers) total volumes were up 14% (44m dwt).
Depending on your perspective, an overall 71% drop in ordering (total orders also hit a 35 year record low) is either cause for optimism or for further gloom! In fact, only 113 yards took orders (for vessels 1,000+ GT) in the year, compared to 345 in 2013, with tanker orders down 83% and bulkers down 46%. There was little ordering in any sector, except Cruise (a record 2.5m GT and $15.6bn), Ferry and Ro-Ro (all niche business however and of little help to volume yards).
Finally a couple more records – global fleet growth of 3% to 1.8bn dwt (up 50% since the financial crisis with tankers at 555m dwt and bulkers at 794m dwt) and trade growth of 2.6% to 11.1bn tonnes (up 3bn tonnes since the financial crisis) mean we still finish with the largest fleet and trade volumes of all time! Plenty of challenges again in 2017 but let’s hope we aren’t reporting as many gloomy records next year. Have a nice New Year!