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25 septembre 2022 Le quotidien en ligne pour les opérateurs et les usagers du transport 23:05 GMT+2

2003 : a shipping bubble?



We should savour our pleasure! The year 2003 was an exceptional vintage for most shipping and shipbuilding markets, what wine experts would classify as outstanding, with an abundant harvest from the three main crops - tankers, dry bulk and containers. 

One has to go back as far as the Six Days´┐Ż War in 1973 and to the Suez crisis in 1956 to find such an equivalent jump in freight rates, but this time without any menacing world war or oil embargo, and really just one principal cause: the economic awakening of China, with its dramatic repercussions for bulk and containers and to a lesser extent oil markets. 

The increase of raw materials imports and finished products exports in and out of China, the lengthening of voyage times, port congestion, and the political crisis in Venezuela and Nigeria, helped to contribute to an increase demand in transport of over 7 % for tankers and bulk carriers, resulting in an average daily rate in 2003 of $ 52,000 for a VLCC, $ 42,000 for a Suezmax and $ 34,000 for an Aframax, whilst the same average rate for bulk carriers was $ 40,000 for a Capesize, $ 20,000 for a Panamax, and $ 15,000 for a Handymax. Average freight rate hikes ranging from between double up to four-times as much within a year! 

This resurgence has made owners more confident and enticed them back to the shipyards, where the level of orders at the end of the year has reached a record level of over 3,500 ships and more than 110 million gt. European shipbuilders, specialising in ships with high added value, have unfortunately only been able to reap some marginal benefits from this situation. 

With such spectacular increases, one is bound to fear whether this is not similar to the frenzy seen in the technological bubble. Are we going to wake up and find ourselves back down in the doldrums that the shipping markets have so often suffered, or have we just entered a more lasting period of virtuous recovery? 

It is obvious that some of the excesses experienced this year will get corrected naturally, and that these corrections will engender some hesitation and nervousness. It is unreasonable that the newbuilding cost of ship can be covered in less than 24 months or that a ship on order get resold four times before being delivered and with a final premium of 40 % on completion. Such speculative enthusiasm can sometimes be a handicap to a sane and steady development. 

However, without being over-optimistic, we believe that the market is well orientated for this new year, due to the enormous needs to equip China and its huge population, the development of the Asian zone, especially India, and above all the economic recovery in the US and Europe, without forgetting the developing trade in energy with the old Soviet republics.  

The return to growth within the large economic zones will automatically contribute to an expansion of seaborne trade and to a healthy use of shipping capacities. In addition, the pace of new orders must inevitably slow down as shipyards are now fully booked up until 2007. 

There is however concern with regards to the fleet of containerships, whose capacity will increase over the next three years by more than 10 % p.a., and thus will only find a full employment provided there is a sustained and continuous increase in world trade, although in the light of the current economical context this is not totally unrealistic. 

It is in such a period of feast that France will enforce legitimate legal means to compete in the expansion of her fleet, by creating a new French International Registry and introducing a tonnage tax scheme. 

We would then hope that, like our European neighbours who already benefit from these facilities, we would see the French fleet grow and reach a more respectable dimension, in line with the economic rank of our country.


Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2003


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