"Shipping is heading for the doldrums if not for the dole queue," says Clarkson Research Services, one of the most well known maritime market intelligence setups in the world. With too many vessels, limited cargo and muted demolition cited as big reasons, Clarkson implies that rock bottom earnings are here to stay for a while.
A historical graph showing the average cargo tonnage carried per DWT by oil tankers and bulk carriers points to other interesting- albeit disturbing- findings as regards productivity of the fleet. "For oil tankers, productivity was at its lowest in the early 1990s when the first Gulf War impacted on their performance. But in the nine years 1994-2003 hardly any growth in the fleet, but a 30% increase in trade, meant they had to work much harder (or smarter?) and productivity soared to over 9 t/dwt pa. During the next nine years to 2012 trade expanded by a further 19%, but the fleet by more than 50%. Productivity of the fleet slipped back to 7 t/dwt pa," writes Cliff Tyler of Clarksons.
Bulkers seemed to be in line with this trend until 2008, thanks to expanding Chinese demand, touching 8½ t/dwt pa over 2004-07. Unfortunately, mushrooming new buildings in this sector "saw capacity grow at almost three times the rate of cargoes" thereafter, says Clarksons. The result? Productivity dropped to under 6½ t/dwt pa.
Admitting that economic slow steaming and long periods waiting for cargo are major influences reducing vessels’ productivity, the firm sees the growth of cargo volumes as the only way out. However, the tone of the analysis is certainly bearish. "The dip of growth in the European, American and Chinese economies does not bode well for demand in the short term," it says.