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29 November 2021 The on-line newspaper devoted to the world of transports 16:17 GMT+1





The dry bulk market in 2001

Has the announced crisis happened?

 
While the year 2000 was a colour print, 2001 was the negative. We should not however be surprised. The low prices for newbuildings, offered throughout 1999 and even in 2000 by Far Eastern shipyards led to a plethora of orders. Deliveries in the course of the year reached record levels of 6.6 million dwt for the Handysize (158 ships), 8.6 million dwt for the Panamax (116 ships), and 5.8 million dwt for the Capesize (34 ships), whilst at the same time the demolition figure was only 8.6 million dwt for all sizes.

bulk fleet

The freights
Already towards the end of 2000 a slowdown could be felt, the Baltic Dry Index closing at 1,600 points, below its maximum of 1,760 points reached in November, and expectations were clearly bearish. However against all likelihood, the market held up with mixed fortunes until the end of May when the number of ships delivered started to weigh heavily. Exports of Australian coal continued at a sustained rate to an extent that they were able to absorb in the initial months the deliveries of new Panamaxes.
 

Capesize freight rates

Panamax freight rates

time charter rates

Demand
China started playing a more and more active role in this sector, overtaking South Africa in second place as largest coal exporter in the world. In the month of March alone, China exported nearly 10 million tons of coal. On the other hand, right from the start of the year, the demand of iron ore was in decline as compared to 2000 figures.

Although the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of a number of American steel companies of which Bethlehem Steel is the most noteworthy had a relatively small impact on the volume of ore transported by sea, the world economic environment dictates the rules for steel operators. According to the International Iron and Steel Institute, American production in 2001 has dropped back by 10.9 % as compared to 2000. Production in the E.U. was down by 2.7 % and the two heavyweights - France and Germany- were respectively down by 7.7 % and 3.4 %. At the same time India saw its production rise by 1.4 % and Japan’s dropped by 3.4 %, but Asia registered a combined production of 332 million tons namely 4.0 % higher as compared to 2000. Once again China showed itself to be a major player with production reaching 141 million tons.

In 2001 world crude steel production totalled 823.9 million tons against 829.6 in 2000. Given the uncertainties in the international scene, the result is remarkable.

In the light of these figures one is tempted to conclude maybe a little hastily that the fall in freight rates was the result of an excess of tonnage on offer. This impression needs to be tempered somewhat. One of the highlights of this year was the merger, after that of British Steel and Hoogovens in 1999, of Usinor, Aceralia and Arbed to give birth to the number one steel company in the world with a production capacity of 45 million tons. Other steel companies are following as a merger between NKK and Kawasaki has been announced.

Whilst awaiting the outcome of the big merger, as well as doubts about the world demand, an important volume of contractual cargoes was not covered. Elsewhere the necessary adjustments to production and stocks were done at the last minute, on a step by step basis as the American economy slipped into recession, as Japan went deeper into its stagnation, and with the slowing-down of activity in Germany.

Finally, suffering from a double monetary constraint and the high freight rates of 2000, Japan and more especially China relocated their ore supplies from Australia at the expense of Brazil, thus reducing the volume in tonnes-miles transported. This situation prevailed right throughout 2001.

Elsewhere world demand for coal, despite rising regularly, has also seen some changes. As for ore, the Asian economies switched increasingly to Australian or Chinese coal, at the expense of South Africa and America. To illustrate this, in the first nine months of 2001 South Africa exported 5.9 million tons towards Asia as compared to 11.8 million tons for the same period in 2000.

Steel companies have not been the only ones to merge. The Australian mining company BHP and the South African Billiton have created one of the biggest world groups. In the cement industry the merger between Lafarge and Blue Circle has created the biggest world force in this sector with a production of 14 million tons. The German Heidelberg Cement with its purchase of Scancem are close on their heels. Grain companies got into the act with the purchase of the American Continental Grain by its compatriot Cargill in 1998. There are others who have been left aside in this consolidation as can be witnessed by the bankruptcy of the Swiss André.

This process could not leave the shipowners totally indifferent. Their response came quickly as already in November 2001 the English ABC-Zodiac (ABC being already the product of a merger between P&O/Shougang) and the Belgian Bocimar announced their union, giving rise to the largest world Capesize owner with 80 ships (bearing in mind that the total Capesize fleet is 656 ships). The creation of very large Panamax or Handymax owners has not yet occurred, but it is true that these markets are much more dispersed.

We are therefore seeing a globalisation of the market with a small number of players but with increased influence. At the same time freight has become a commodity like others that one can buy and sell spot and term, giving birth to a new type of operator specialised in Capesize and/or Panamax in certain geographical zones or trades, such as SwissMarine or Enron (whose bankruptcy is only a blip in this evolution). The recent period when a contract was wide open, now seems something of the past. Nowadays for each charter, a dozen owners at least (luckily not always the same) propose variations of a theme. In this respect the growth in the market for buying and selling freight ‘futures’, provides a host of possibilities for hedging or making other alternative complex coverings.

The nearly instantaneous knowledge of ship’s positions, the rapid circulation and the abundance of information paradoxically can complicate getting to the basic essentials. In order to remain in the game, it is now more than ever crucial to be part of the initiated few.

It is true that after an euphoric 2000, 2001 pales in comparison and the facts are there to back this up. However the rationalisation of the market, which began several years ago, has quickly accelerated and only a more positive economic situation will lead to improved freight markets.

The strong players of the future are formed in these times of crisis. Abundant, complex information requires specialists and also favours the development of new tools for its analysis and interpretation, and only the best armed will be able to survive.
 

Bulk - Lake Maine Lake Maine
53,500 dwt, grab-fitted blt 2001by Imabari Shipbuilding, owned by Daio Kaiun Ltd (Japan) and on long time charter to Louis Dreyfus Armateurs (France)
The second-hand market
The Capesize second-hand market (80,000 dwt and over)
Last year we concluded our analysis by stating that it would be necessary to be prudent in 2001. In practice during the first quarter, the second-hand Capesize market continued to follow its downward trend already begun at the end of 2000.

Values then flattened out between March and April. They rose strongly up to the end of June when they literally collapsed until September, before steadying out at a level well below last year’s. One only needs to look at the fluctuations in freight rates to find the reasons for these dramatic variations in prices.

As always the oldest ships were the most affected, whereas modern units tend to gain less in rising periods and lose less in falling ones.

There were some 26 sales for further trading (comprising 16 ships delivered from 1990 to 2001 and 10 built between 1981 and 1989.) Eight ships built between 1969 and 1978 were demolished this year amounting to 1,043,000 dwt, whilst 34 ships were delivered totalling 5,769,000 dwt.

For a fully classified ship and in good condition, the following values were applicable:

January 2001 December 2001
150,000 dwt built in 1995 about $26 / 27 m about $18 / 19 m
150,000 dwt built in 1990 about $19.5 / 20 m about $14 / 14.5 m

The consolidation in the market, reinforced by the setting up of the Cape International pool, does not prevent some strong crosswinds from blow-ing. Even if at year’s end it seems to be calmer with a slight rise in the freight rates, the tendency for ship’s values are declining as there are big uncertainties within the world’s economies.

Construction prices should not rise next year which will have a direct repercussion on values of the most recent ships. In a poor market, it is always preferable to renew one’s fleet by a newbuilding rather than by acquiring a modern second-hand ship with immediate availability.

The drop in the yen if it continues its path pursued at the end of the year, should incite Japanese sellers to be more flexible on asking prices for their ships financed locally. Values expressed in dollars should therefore suffer.

It will take a real and solid recovery in freight rates together with a renewed revival in growth prospects for second-hand values to be able to move up substantially. If the hopes are less muted at the end of the year, the reality remains stubbornly subdued even if in a thin market like the Capesize, changes in situations can sometimes be quicker than expected.

A glimmer of hope lies in the current modest orderbook. It represents about 9.3 % of the existing fleet. In 2002 only 25 ships should be delivered by shipbuilding yards for a total capacity of 4.2 million dwt.
 

The Panamax, Handymax & Handysize second-hand market
At the end of last year, we concluded our review for this segment of the sale & purchase bulk carrier market saying that players in the shipping industry could be "cautiously optimistic" for the near future only if an accelerated demolition activity is re-established coupled with positive industrial production and world trade figures, as this could be the only counter-balance to the massive number of deliveries both in the Panamax and Handymax segments. Let us look at what happened.

While deliveries took place, demolition was very slow to follow. The world economy did not continue with the same vigour, to say the least, Japan still cannot get out of its decade long recession, Far Eastern economies again walking a tightrope, the European Union slowing down and we now have an U.S. economy officially declared as being in recession since March this year, resulting in decreasing industrial production figures.

The effect of all the above was, as expected, a severe downward pressure on freight rates which, as one would anticipate, put ship values under pressure. Values softened across the board for all types and age segments of the dry bulk carrier market.

The youngest units too, experienced similar downward pressure on their values as the yards started to look for new business and were expected to become more aggressive, trying to secure new orders by offering attractive prices and terms.

All this was already happening when terrorists struck the U.S.A. on September 11th.

The uncertainty and speculation of what the future may bring, has become the number one preoccupation in everybody’s mind which, in the shipping industry just as with every economic activity, translates itself into "inaction, do nothing, wait and see".

As one would anticipate, the above mentioned factors had a negative effect in the second-hand sale and purchase activity resulting in a lower number of successful transactions in all sizes. The number of reported sales during 2001, when compared to those for 2000, yield the following:

  • 26 % less Panamax sales (40 vessels in 2001 against 54 during 2000)
  • 31 % less Handymax sales (48 vessels in 2001 against 70 during 2000)
  • 23 % less Handy sales (77 vessels against 100 during 2000)

The Greek shipping community still had a leading role amongst buyers this year, although the number of reported bulk carrier sales to Greek buyers was half (59 ships) the one recorded in 2000 (120) and about one third of 1999’s figure (158). The much publicised listing of shipowning companies on the Athens Stock Exchange did not happen this year although we understand that the legislation is in place. It may take a while before any company attempts such a listing and definitely not in an exchange, which after having gone through "a very drastic correction" has also been suffering from a long "bear" period.

Chinese buyers made their presence felt this year, by doubling the number of ships purchased, 19 ships as opposed to only nine during 2000. Similarly Norwegian buyers were reported to have purchased 17 vessels versus only seven in 2000.

As 2001 is drawing to an end, second-hand dry bulk carrier values continue their downward trend at a slower pace and many feel that we may be very near the bottom of this cycle. The result is an increase in the willingness of prospective buyers to inspect vessels, that are being offered for sale, even if most are of the opinion that prices may drop somewhat further before they pick up again. An apt example of this is the number of interested parties, 16, who inspected in Argentina (not on the Continent) earlier in December 2001 the ‘Panagiotis A’, a 1995-built 71,500 dwt Panamax bulker. She has been reported sold to Greek buyers, Angelicoussis, for a price in the region of $13.4 million. This is $100,000 more than the reported price for which the ‘Maratha Memory’, a 1997-built 72,000 dwt vessel, was sold only a week earlier! Is this a "blip"? Could it be the proof that we have indeed reached the bottom? Or, is it just because competition was fierce and not seen since 1999? We do believe that it is a mixture of all the above.

The Japanese yen has weakened further this year and at the end of 2001 has reached a three year low ($1 = yen127) if this trend continues, and according to exchange rate specialists, it may well do so considering the dire state of the Japanese economy, there may be a greater number of vessels being offered for sale from Japanese shipping companies. This together with the fact that prices will be considered as very near the bottom may well "kick start" second-hand sale & purchase activity.

Second-hand sale and purchase activity picks up as soon as there are healthy signs in the freight markets, but apart from world economy, international trade etc. the criterion of supply and demand is forever present in shipping.
 

The Panamax and Handymax scheduled deliveries for 2002 are at much lower levels (about 9 % and about 11 % of the active fleet respectively) than 12 months ago and the figures for Handysize scheduled deliveries remains very low (about 4 % of the active fleet).

Demolition this year picked up significantly and in terms of dwt removed from the market we note:

  • Panamax: about 2.2 million dwt were removed this year, 33 ships, representing an increase of about 400 % over the figures for 2000. However, this is only about 3.3 % of the active fleet.
  • Handymax: about 1.07 million dwt were removed this year, 25 ships, which is about the same figure as for 2000, i.e. no significant change. This is only about 2 % of the active fleet.
  • Handysize: about 2.5 million dwt were removed this year, 90 ships, which represents an increase of about 32 % over the 2000 figures. This is only about 3 % of the active fleet, but the scheduled deliveries for this size of vessels are only about 4 % of the fleet…

Panamax (55,000 to 75,000 dwt)

A total of 40 ships were reported sold during 2001 and some points worth noting are:

  • 52.5 % (21 vessels) built in the 90’s of which eight were constructed after 1995.
  • 42.5 % (17) built in the 80’s of which two were built in 1988-1989 the rest prior to 1985.
  • Only two vessels sold in 2001 were built in the 70’s representing only 5 % of the sales.
  • More than half (24 vessels) involved en-bloc purchases ranging from two ships up to five or six vessels.
  • Some vessels had been reported "sold on subjects" several times during the course of the year, but had subsequently not been lifted and their owners re-marketed them until an eventual firm sale. This was true for younger ships as well as ships over 15 years old.
  • We noted several en-bloc sales of modern ships (less than five years old) involving long period time charter or bare boat back arrangements with sellers. This would appear to be the only way possible for a ship to be sold, in the view of the uncertainties of the freight markets, large orderbook, etc. One example is the sale of the ‘Far Eastern Progress’ and the ‘Far Eastern Auspice’ both of 72,000 dwt and 1996-built, at $15.6 million including a 10 year bare boat charter back to sellers, another one including a long period time charter back is that of ‘Pacemperor’ and ‘Pacmonarch’, both 74,000 dwt and 2000-built, sold for $22.0 / 23.0 million including a 12 year time charter back.
  • Transactions whereby owners were selling their entire Panamax fleet, some included long period employment and others were straight sales. The sale of the Lasco controlled Panamax fleet involved five vessels of which two were built in 1990 and three in 1994, the en bloc transaction included a 10 year bare boat charter back to the sellers and a purchase option. The en bloc charter-free sale of the Docenave Panamax fleet to Elcano of Spain, involved five vessels all 20 years old.
  • Some deals whereby the buyer would take a fairly modern vessel on bare boat charter with purchase options at predetermined prices during the course of the period and a purchase obligation at an agreed price at the end of the period: the ‘Aspen’, ‘Hawthorn’, ‘Capella’ and ‘Polaris’ all 1997-built and of 73,000 dwt were sold in pairs to two different buyers, but with the same reported structure, where the buyer takes the vessel on bare boat charter for five years at $5,250 per day with purchase option at the end of years three and four for $12.0 and 11.0 million respectively and a purchase obligation at the end of year five at $9.8 million.
  • The sale to Actinor Shipping of Norway of the ‘Northern Venture’ and ‘Xinshi Hai’ both 1995-built and of 68 000 dwt, for $15.0 million including a 12 year bare boat charter to Cosco and the en bloc sale of the A.P. Moller controlled ‘Maersk Taikung’, ‘Maersk Tanjong’ and ‘Maersk Tukang’ to Spar Shipping of Norway at $13.25 million each including a three year time charter back to the sellers including optional periods are also worth noting.

At the end of 2001 the value of a 10 year old Panamax bulk carrier stands at about $9.0 million, about 20 % less than what it was 12 months ago, whereas a 5 year old vessel of this size is worth about $13.0 / 13.5 million, about 16 / 17 % less than what it was valued at $16.0 / 16.2 million, in December 2000. In short, values have diminished back to their 1999 levels, if not somewhat lower.

Having said this, the reported sale at the end of December of the ‘Panagiotis A’ (mentioned earlier) would seem to indicate that values are no longer as low as mentioned just above, but this is only one sale. On the other hand, it takes very little (just one sale might prove to be enough…) to change buyers’ sentiment into deciding whether "the market has reached the bottom and that now is the time to buy", this could lead to a stampede, like the one experienced in the spring of 1999… To avoid this, our advice "in good faith but without guarantee" would be, if you are potential Panamax bulk carrier buyers, to buy now rather than later.
 

Among a total of 48 ships were reported sold during 2001:

  • 23 % (11 vessels) built in the 90’s of which one was built in 1990 and the rest after 1994.
  • 54 % (26) built in the 80’s of which 10 after 1985.
  • 23 % (11) built in the 70’s.
  • As opposed to the Panamax sales, few en bloc deals were reported and even fewer involved long period charter back arrangements to the sellers.
  • Chinese buyers made their presence felt by inspecting and offering on 80’s built ships calling to China.
  • This is the size of vessel that the former principal of Golden Ocean (the VLCC shipping company that was taken over by Frontline) chose to make his comeback in shipowning by purchasing the ‘Bara’, a 1998-built 42,000 dwt unit, from Louis Dreyfus Armateurs, for a reported price of $14.5 million including a four year time charter back to the sellers.

The value of a 10 year old Handymax bulk carrier 12 months ago was about $ 11.5 million, whereas at the end of 2001 it is estimated at about $8.75 / 9.0 million representing a 20 % drop in value, a five year old vessel of this size currently stands at about $12.5 million, about 19 % less than what it was worth ($15.5 million) in December 2000.

Our feeling is that for this size of ship we are very close to the bottom, however there have not been any recent end-of-the-year sales to indicate a reversal of this downward trend, but this may be just around the corner. So if one is considering investing in a Handymax bulk carrier, one should actively be inspecting such vessels in order to be ready to "move" once one feels "the time is right". It will not be too long…
 

A total of 77 vessels were reported sold during 2001:

  • 34 % (26 vessels) built in the 70’s of which four were built prior to 1976.
  • 53 % (41) built in the 80’s of which 18 units were built after 1985.
  • 13 % (10) built in the 90’s, of which half were built in the second half of the decade.
  • Two of the 90’s built ships sold, involved charterers exercising purchase options.
  • Very few en bloc deals were reported during 2001.
  • Far Eastern buyers proved to be more active during 2001 than in previous years, Greek buyers too were quite active and these two nationalities were reportedly involved in about 60 % of the total number of sales.

At the end of 2001 we estimate the value of a five year old Handysize bulk carrier at about $10.5 million, whereas 12 months earlier the same type of vessel was worth about $11.75 / 12.0 million. A 10 year old ship in December 2001 is estimated to be worth in the region of $7.0 / 7.25 million, whereas in December 2000 her value was closer to $8.25 / 8.5 million. The drop in value for the five and ten year old categories is about 10.6 % and 12 % respectively. It would seem that the drop was greatly decelerated due to the weak orderbook in this size. Again, the feeling is that values may have reached a bottom…

* * *

Concluding this year’s review of the second hand bulk carrier market, the majority of the Panamax and Handymax deliveries is behind us and prices are at levels similar to those of early 1999. The world economy is experiencing a recession after many years of expansion, but economists are forecasting a recovery in the second half of 2002. The reasons evoked for this recovery include the level of interest rates, which are at record lows, generous financial stimulus in the U.S. (tax cuts, emergency spending following the 11th September attacks…) amounting to about $375 billion and lower oil prices. The recovery may come more rapidly if all the above has a stronger impact. Confidence and sentiment will revive faster than expected.

Next year, we shall look back at what actually happened during 2002, but for the time being we are of the opinion that values have or are about to "bottom out" and therefore any investment in these sizes of bulk carriers should be undertaken sooner rather than later.
 

Bulk - Santa Christina Santa Christina 
25,378 dwt, blt 1996 by Imabari Shipbuilding, owned by Nissho Shipping (Tokyo) and on long time charter to Le Nickel SLN (Nouméa) Eramet Group


Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2001

I N D E X





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