Shipping confidence reached its highest rating in the past three years in the three months to end-August 2017, according to the latest Shipping Confidence Survey from Moore Stephens.
The average confidence level expressed by respondents to the survey was up slightly from the 6.1 out of 10.0 recorded in the previous survey in May 2017 to a three-year high of 6.2.
The improved rating was attributable mainly to increased confidence from owners, up from 6.1 to 6.5. Confidence levels on the part of brokers, meanwhile, fell from 6.4 to 6.3, while managers and charterers recorded more substantial drops – from 6.2 to 5.8 and from 6.4 to 4.7 respectively, the lowest levels in both cases since May 2016, Moore Stephens said.
Confidence levels were significantly up in Asia from 5.6 to 6.4, their highest level since May 2014. Confidence was also up in Europe, from 6.2 to 6.3, but down in North America, from 6.4 to 5.8.
Despite familiar concerns about excess tonnage capacity in many trades and continuing uncertainty over Brexit, several respondents saw reasons for optimism over the coming 12 months, not least as a result of what one described as “some green shoots of a relatively broad-based rebound in economic activity.”
This helped maintain expectations of major investments being made over the next 12 months. A concern, however, persisted over political instability, the incipient cost of increased legislation, and the probable entry into the market of low-cost newbuildings.
The likelihood of respondents making a major investment or significant development over the next 12 months was unchanged from the previous survey at 5.4, the highest level achieved since August 2014. The expectations of respondents in Asia were up, from 5.1 to 5.9, but down in Europe, from 5.4 to 5.2.
As was the case in the May 2017 survey, 50% of respondents expected finance costs to increase over the coming year. Owners’ expectations were unchanged at 48%, but both managers and charterers were anticipating dearer finance. Brokers were alone among the main categories of respondent in recording a fall (from 63% to 42%) in the numbers expecting finance costs to go down.
Demand trends, cited by 27% of respondents, continued to be the factor expected to influence performance most significantly over the next 12 months, followed by competition (17%) and tonnage supply (15%), the latter displacing finance costs in third place.
“Confidence is impaired by the inexperience of investment houses resulting in over-liquidity in the market, which feels that it has to spend just for the sake of it – a ‘greed-eats-brain’ mentality,” one respondent said.
The number of respondents expecting higher rates over the next 12 months in the tanker market was up on the previous survey, from 32% to 45%, while there was a 2% fall, to 14%, in those anticipating lower tanker rates. Meanwhile, although there was a two percentage-point fall, to 56%, in the numbers anticipating higher rates in the dry bulk sector, this was still the second-highest figure in three-and-a-half years. In the containership sector, the numbers expecting higher rates dropped by six percentage points to 40%, while there was a five percent increase, to 17%, in those anticipating lower container ship rates.
Net sentiment was positive in all the main tonnage categories, and up in the tanker market from +16 in May 2017 to +31 this time. There were meanwhile small declines in net sentiment in the dry bulk and container ship trades, from +50 to +49 and from +34 to +23 respectively.
“Confidence has been increasing steadily over the past 15 months, and industry players are more confident of making a major investment over the coming year than they have been at any time in the past three years. Moreover, net sentiment in all three main tonnage categories is positive, having almost doubled in the tanker sector over the past quarter,” Richard Greiner, Moore Stephens Partner, Shipping & Transports, noted.
In a stand-alone question, respondents were asked to rank in order of priority what they considered to be the most significant new sources of finance for shipping over the next 12 months. Bank finance emerged as the first choice of 27% of respondents, followed by private equity (18%). Lease finance (14%) featured in third place, one percentage point ahead of shareholder funds.
“Banks are being a lot tougher with owners, and it is good to see the demise of the CV and KG systems which generally did little to help the long-term viability of the industry,” one respondent said.