A growing vessel glut is battering sentiment in the shipping industry at a time when players face risks to growth in Asia and turmoil in countries such as Greece, a leading transport survey showed on Monday.
While the oil tanker sector has enjoyed a rebound in rates and higher activity this year, dry bulk shipping – which transports commodities including iron ore, coal and grains – is suffering one of its worst ever downturns due massive fleet growth and weaker activity from top industrial importers such as China.
In an annual survey by international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, confidence among respondents had deteriorated over the past year with only 33 percent viewing current market conditions as positive, compared with 69 percent in 2014.
“Overcapacity in the shipping sector is now beginning to bite,” Norton Rose Fulbright’s global head of transport Harry Theochari said.
“Many shipping businesses will be watching closely developments in the euro zone, particularly as so many in the industry have links with Greece. Ultimately though, with so much focus on Asia, a downturn in emerging markets is seen as having far greater potential to derail a recovery than the continuing political and economic uncertainty we are seeing in Europe.”
Many Greek ship owners – whose overall fleet of Greek and foreign-flagged ships is among the biggest in the world – have traditionally been active in the dry bulk sector.
“Many sub-sectors of the shipping industry continue to suffer real pain,” Theochari said.
Shipping still faces a multi-billion dollar funding hole as many European banks have retreated from the sector, partly due to capital constraints and regulatory demands to shore up reserves in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
“The Scandinavian, U.S. and Chinese banks are demonstrating significant appetite for the shipping sector,” Theochari said.
“While private equity is beginning to gradually step away from the sector, debt capital markets are piling in.”
The survey said mergers and acquisitions, pooling arrangements, joint ventures and other tie-ups were expected to become a major feature in shipping over the next year partly due to the need for new investment and capital.
“Consolidation, driven by both distress and the on-going corporatisation of the industry, is the natural next step for shipping businesses,” Theochari said.
The survey – in its sixth year which polled over 157 respondents across the transport industry including companies, financiers and government entities – said the outlook for rail and aviation was more positive due to more funding and better economic prospects. Lower oil prices had helped cut fuel costs for the aviation industry.
“Longer term, the anticipated growth in demand, rising fares and freights, and increased innovation and infrastructure investment is expected to create new opportunities for the transport sector,” Theochari said.
(By Jonathan Saul, Editing by David Evans)