Orders for new ships losing steam

Most, if not all, shipping companies are proud of the high returns they have achieved through the operation of their vessels in the last few years, but new orders from Greek and other European firms seem to be losing steam this year. The tail winds in the market have propelled its expansion through the wealth amassed for investment from operating profits. Yet what shipowners are worried about at the present is not so much the operation of their vessels, but the risk entailed by the continuing rise in fuel prices and their impact on the cost of energy, as well as the higher cost of money due to inflation. Europe has retained its leading role in new ship orders, accounting for an investment of $123 billion or 53 percent of orders from all over the world in 2007. Greek shipowners are always the undisputed leaders in the industry, having been responsible for 15 percent of all orders last year with the investment of $36 billion. Shipowners from Germany followed with 13 percent, ahead of Norway (7 percent), Italy (4 percent) and Turkey (4 percent). Behind Europe come the three powers of the Far East (China, Japan and South Korea) with combined investments of $37 billion, or 16 percent last year. China actually trebled its investment from $6.5 billion in 2006 to $18.6 billion in 2007. The other Asian countries invested $21 billion while North America spent $17.5 billion. But if 2007 proved to be a golden year for investment in new ships that represented 44 percent of the global fleet, this year the picture is entirely different. The first four months of 2008 saw orders around the world decline by 84 percent year-on-year, falling to just $35 billion. Greek shipowners appear to have refrained from investing in new ships this year, with orders for just a handful of new tankers. The same picture can be seen among German shipowners. In contrast, Asian companies continue to invest in new vessels. The euphoria of high chartering rates seems to be spurring their investment activity and long-term time-chartering contracts. It now looks certain that the majority of all types of investment in new vessels have already been realized. What remains to be seen at this stage is whether this picture will continue in the market for the foreseeable future.