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Investors Are Cautious about Ordering Newbuildings

by Richard Scott FICS, member of London & South East Branch Committee, 22 March 2019
Activity in the newbuilding market remains quite subdued, compared with many previous years. Signs pointing to an upsurge in the immediate future are absent. Looking at the broad pattern of new vessel ordering, a revival has unfolded since annual orders collapsed to a very low volume three years ago, but the recovery has been restrained.
Statistics for global newbuilding orders placed annually, including all commercial ship types, show a total of 87 million deadweight tonnes in 2018, a figure which probably will be revised. This provisional total, calculated by Clarksons Research, is about 2 percent below the preceding year’s 89m dwt volume, but still well above the decade’s low point in 2016 when only 28m dwt was recorded. Previously, in both 2010 and 2013, annual orders exceeded 150m dwt.
The entire orderbook at the end of last year, a ‘snapshot’ view including contracts agreed during last year as highlighted above, totalled 220m dwt, equivalent to about 11 percent of the existing world fleet. A noteworthy aspect is that orderbooks for the main individual sectors - tankers, bulk carriers and container ships - were all within a narrow range of 10-12 percent of respective existing fleets. By contrast the orderbook for liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers was much larger, at 25 percent of existing tonnage.
For shipping markets, the newbuilding deliveries pace which is likely to result from the orderbook is particularly significant. About half of the end-2018 orderbook total is scheduled for delivery this year, followed by under two-fifths next year. But actual deliveries in 2019 almost certainly will be lower than the scheduled figure, a typical outcome. Perhaps this year’s total will be broadly in line with last year’s 80m dwt recorded newbuilding deliveries.
What explains the mostly restrained investors’ attitude to ordering new ships? Although circumstances in individual sectors vary, common factors are visible. Many shipowners are more uncertain about future good investment returns, after long periods of difficult freight markets in the past decade. Further lengthy market adjustments may be needed to restore market balances, aided by relatively low new capacity volumes added. Less abundant finance availability may have contributed. Greater ordering ‘self-discipline’ has resulted. 
A longer article about this topic can be found at: