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Moore Stephens reports small rise in shipping confidence

Posted on: 21 June 2016

Overall confidence levels in the shipping industry rose slightly in the three months to May 2016, according to the latest Shipping Confidence Survey from international accountant and shipping adviser Moore Stephens.

In May 2016, the average confidence level expressed by respondents in the markets in which they operate was 5.1 on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high). This is a slight improvement on the 5.0 recorded in February 2016, but is still the second lowest rating in the life of the survey, which was launched in May 2008 with a confidence rating of 6.8.

Confidence on the part of owners was markedly up this time, from 4.8 to 5.7, while charterers were also slightly more optimistic than in February, their rating inching up from 3.9 to 4.0. Confidence among managers and brokers, however, was down, from 5.5 to 5.1 and from 5.1 to 4.3 respectively.

Geographically, albeit from very low levels last time, confidence was up in Asia, from 4.4 to 5.2, in Europe from 5.1 to 5.2, and in North America from 4.7 to 5.0.

Economic and geopolitical uncertainty was uppermost in the thoughts of many respondents. “Overall world economic growth is still not moving concertedly in a positive direction,” said one, “so that we have what might best be described as a patchy global economic recovery.” Another emphasised, “Unless there is a drastic change in geopolitical events, shipping markets will remain in their present condition for another 12 months.” Elsewhere it was noted, “World economies are in transition, and we have to adapt to a period when money is not so easy to come by.”

The availability of money for shipping projects, meanwhile, was another recurring theme in respondents’ comments. “Finance is way too cheap,” said one, “and has caused a massive over-supply of tonnage.” Not everybody agreed, however. One respondent complained, “Demands for early loan repayments have been a huge blow to owners’ survival plans,” while another said, “Unstable income due to the collapse in the markets has led financiers to lose confidence in owners.”

Once again, a surfeit of tonnage and a paucity of scrapping were referenced by a number of respondents. One noted, “Far too many newbuildings in the ultra-to-VLOC size range will be hitting the market in the next 12-to-18 months,” while elsewhere it was noted that what is needed is, “strong scrapping, fewer dry newbuildings, stiffer regulations, better and more uniform control.”

It was not all pessimism, however, “There is still a market out there,” another respondent said, “but we can’t all be winners, and there is no longer any room for mediocre performance.”

Respondents were asked a stand-alone question concerning whether or not the UK should leave the European Union. Overall, 77% of respondents felt the UK should remain in the EU. But whereas 79% of owners and 75% of managers were of that view, in the case of charterers and brokers it was significantly lower – 57% and 38% respectively. Twenty percent of respondents felt that an EU exit would have some negative impact on their business, but 64% said it would have no impact at all. So far as UK respondents alone were concerned, 59% thought the UK should remain in the European Union, while 49% thought that leaving the EU would have no impact at all on their business.

One respondent said, “There is likely to be no major impact if the UK votes to leave the EU, but there could be a period of uncertainty in connection with rules and regulations.” Another, however, pointed out, “Shipping is a very complex international business. Having an extra layer of bureaucrats in Brussels has a negative effect on economic wellbeing under just about any form of government.”

Richard Greiner, Moore Stephens partner, Shipping Industry Group, says, “If there is one thing certain in the current shipping market, it is the level of uncertainty which is pervading all sectors at the moment. Over the three months covered by our latest survey, that uncertainty has embraced a variety of industry-specific issues, as well as geopolitical factors ranging from the UK referendum on EU membership to the comparative slowdown in the Chinese economy. Against such a background, any increase in shipping confidence – however small – is welcome.

“There is meanwhile little cheer in the freight markets. In the dry bulk sector, rates are described as ‘dire’, while it is reported that the container ship market is seeing some of the lowest freight rates in its history. The tanker sector is faring better by comparison, but its fortunes over the coming 12 months will be closely linked to what happens to oil prices. The Baltic Dry Index, although recovering from its recent all-time low, is languishing by comparison with its ‘salad days’, and may continue to do so for some time absent a significant upturn in the Chinese economy.

“It is clear that shipping is in for a hard 12 months. The problems cited by the respondents to our survey are familiar in nature and, in many cases, growing in the extent of their severity. The fact that only 5% of respondents considered regulation to be one of the main factors likely to influence their performance over the coming 12 months is either an indication of the severity and immediacy of other factors, or else an acceptance that there is still time to save up for what is needed to comply with new regulation. The Ballast Water Management Convention now stands on the cusp of ratification at a largely unquantifiable cost to operators.

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