ECONOMY

Orders for new ships are sinking

New ship orders from Greek shipowners continued to decline in March 2008 compared to previous months, according to shipbroker George Moundreas & Co. In March new orders numbered just 17, totaling $424 million. Throughout 2007, Greek shipowners had ordered 556 ships, a total investment of $31,872 million. This follows the pattern seen across the global market and is attributed to the international credit crisis and the large backlog of orders at shipyards. For example, order placed this year can expect delivery in 2012. Bank officials and academics who monitor the sector argue that the credit crisis, which entails a risk of recession, could lead to a declining course in shipping, while shipowners are also facing difficulties in securing loans that will fund their new ships, despite their huge profits. City University professor Costas Grammenos recently told the Association of Greek Banking and Financial Officers in Greek Shipping that new ship building internationally requires about $490 billion. It is not known how some $200 billion of this amount will be found, after excluding syndicated and other loans. Grammenos identified three reasons why the market fears a decline. These are the crisis in subprime markets and its impacts on the US credit system, the situation in the interbank market, and the major needs for funding new shipbuilding. Bankers involved in shipping funding suggest that this is the first time the industry has seen such a significant concentration in ship capacity by listed companies, a major stake in which has been acquired at high prices. This poses a considerable problem as most of the ships have been time-chartered at high rates that have been conceded to banks as guarantees for borrowing funds. Consequently, in a possible market recession the credit standing of some companies will shrink dramatically as a result of the ensuing chain reaction, since when their chartering expires they will not be able to maintain the same rate levels in order to service their loans.