Shipping Confidence Steady amid Fierce Competition

Image Courtesy: Maersk Line

Shipping confidence held steady in the three months to end-February 2017, according to the latest Shipping Confidence Survey from international accountant and shipping adviser Moore Stephens.

In February 2017, the average confidence level expressed by respondents was 5.6 out of 10.0, unchanged from the previous survey in November 2016 and equal to the highest rating since August 2015.

Owners were the only main category to show an improved level of confidence, up from 5.4 to 5.6. Confidence on the part of charterers was down from its all-time survey high of 6.8 to 5.9, while that of managers fell from 6.4 to 6.0. Confidence levels in the broking sector, meanwhile, dropped from 5.6 to 4.6.

Confidence was up in Europe and North America, from 5.4 to 5.5 and 5.9 to 6.1 respectively, but down from 5.7 to 5.6 in Asia.

Respondents generally felt that competition was running at very high levels, while other familiar concerns included overtonnaging and geopolitical uncertainty. Most respondents saw 2017 as a year of retrenchment rather than improvement.

The likelihood of respondents making a major investment or significant development over the next 12 months was unchanged for the fourth successive quarter, at 4.9 out of 10.0. Managers’ expectations were up from 5.2 to 5.6, the highest level since August 2015. Owners’ expectations were also up, from 5.0 to 5.1, but those of charterers and brokers were down, from 6.4 to 5.8 and 3.8 to 3.4 respectively.

Demand trends overtook competition as the factor expected to influence performance most significantly over the next 12 months, followed by finance costs and tonnage supply.

“Competition is so intense at the moment,” said one respondent: “that you either accept what is offered or a competitor will take the cargo.”

The number of respondents expecting higher rates in the tanker market over the next 12 months fell by eight percentage points to 25%, while the number anticipating lower tanker rates rose from 24% to 28%.

Meanwhile, there was a three-percentage-point rise, to 44%, in the numbers anticipating higher rates in the dry bulk sector. In the container ship sector, the numbers expecting higher rates rose from 27% to 31%, while there was a three-percentage-point fall, to 18%, in those anticipating lower container ship rates.

The steady shipping confidence was described by Richard Greiner, Moore Stephens Partner, Shipping & Transport, as encouraging given the continuing political uncertainty in the US and Europe.

“Freight markets are dragging along the bottom in many sectors, with net rate sentiment in the tanker market being particularly low. Add to this the expectation of higher ship finance costs, the mounting costs of regulation, the threat of cyber-crime and projected increases in operating costs and it is evident that shipping will not be a picnic for the foreseeable future,” he added.

“But shipping is not a natural fit for the pessimist, and those with meaningful experience of the industry will be looking with some justification for a re-strengthening of rates in the tanker and dry-bulk trades, supported by continued rationalisation of newbuilding plans and accelerated recycling levels.”

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