The importance of capacity
Capacity, in a commoditized industry like shipping, is an important metric that directly impacts companies’ top line or revenue performance. When capacity grows faster than demand, competition will rise among individual shipping firms as they try to use idle ships and cover fixed costs. This will lower day rates, which will negatively affect bottom-line earnings, free cash flows, and share prices for tanker companies.
Companies are scrapping crude tankers amid a depressing market
Between August 23 and 30, tanker capacity measured in deadweight tonnage (the weight a ship can safely carry across the ocean), fell by another 0.04% for crude tankers. Product tankers, on the other hand, rose 0.05% % using the last eight weeks to smooth out the data. The recent decline in growth rates appears to reflect lower shipping rates. When shipping rates are at depressing levels and shipping companies can’t profit by running the new or existing ships, companies will delay receiving new ships or scrap ships to reduce capacity and support rates. This could act as a short-term support for shipping rates. But this is another indicator that points to the depressed crude tanker market, given that ship orders had slumped over the same period.
Annual capacity growth falling
While annual capacity growth still remains above 3.5% for crude tankers and even higher for product tankers, it has come down since April, which is a positive sign. Analysts consider year-over-year growth because it adjusts for possible seasonality and short-term noise, and demand figures are often quoted on a year-over-year basis for the same reasons. So this makes comparing supply and demand balance easier.
Interpretation of higher growth
The decline in weekly capacity is a positive sign that incumbent firms are resorting to scrapping and slippage to alleviate issues with excess capacity and support shipping rates for crude tankers. If shipping rates rise further from here, however, as they often do because of seasonal increases in demand for heating oil for the winter, capacity growth will likely rise. For product tankers, the weakness we’ve seen over the past few weeks appears to be due to a short-term pause in deliveries. This will likely pick up throughout the remainder of this year, as several companies such as Navios Maritime Acquisition Corp. (NNA) and Scorpio Tankers Ltd. (STNG) have been placing large number of orders since last year.
Depending on whether demand is expected to meet supply, current capacity growth could be negative or positive for tanker firms such as Frontline Ltd. (FRO), Nordic American Tanker Ltd. (NAT), Navios Maritime Acquisition Corp. (NNA), and Scorpio Tankers Ltd. (STNG). This information is listed in our Marine Shipping page. While this forecast also applies to the Guggenheim Shipping ETF (SEA), the ETF is also affected by fundamentals of international shuttle tankers, LNG (liquified natural gas) carriers, container ships, and to a smaller extent, dry bulk ships.1