Boxship, Bulker Sectors Taking a Turn for the Better?

As some of the shipping sectors are now moving into a new phase, Clarksons Research examined improvement indices for four main volume shipping sectors which indicate that bulkers and containerships are moving away from the bottom of the cycle.

As explained, a helpful measure of the progress of the cycle might be to look at how far a sector has progressed on its possible journey between the ‘low-point’ in the cycle and the historical average level as the percentage increase in earnings in each sector doesn’t really capture the essence of the relative position in the market cycle.

Across September, earnings for a 2,750 TEU containership were up by 55% since Aug 2016, and Capesize spot earnings were up by more than 800% since March 2016. However, Clarksons said that this doesn’t mean that these markets are in the rudest of health just yet.

Boxship charter earnings have increased in 2017 so far, with the earnings index averaging 61 in the last 12 weeks, up from 45 in December 2016 at the bottom of the cycle.

That equates to moving 29% of the way back to historical average levels, which seems like a fairly good guide to where the containership sector stands in the cycle, according to Clarksons.

Bulk carrier earnings have also improved this year with the earnings index averaging 70 in the last 12 weeks, up from 21 in February 2016, a record low for many segments in the bulk carrier sector.

That is equivalent to moving 61% of the way back to historical averages. This seems “a little aggressive”, perhaps reflecting some additional seasonal impetus to the market recently, and the historically very low starting point. Taking the 2016 index average as the low point instead, earnings would be 51% of the way back, Clarksons said.

However, the story is completely different in the tanker and gas carrier sectors. In both sectors, earnings have in the main been easing back for some time now, and the most recent lows are very recent indeed.

The average tanker earnings and gas earnings indices in the last 12 weeks lie very close to the most recent market low points. The ‘% turn’ at 9% and 13% respectively is not really the key feature of these sectors today.

This ‘relative’ approach can provide an idea of how far the markets have moved into the next phase of the cycle (or not). The ClarkSea Index, which topped USD 12,000/day for the first time since January 2016 in September, is 28% of the way back to historical average levels.

Although sentiment and earnings levels are looking more positive in some sectors, simple percentage gains don’t tell the whole story. Volatility remains and there’s likely to be some way and more re-balancing to go to arrive at potentially much happier times for investors, Clarksons concluded.