Why Capesize vessel construction fell to a level unseen for years

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Nov. 27 2019, Updated 1:09 p.m. ET

The importance of ships under construction

Ship orders reflect managers’ expectations for future supply and demand differentials. But new ship orders don’t always translate into new constructions right away. Sometimes shipping firms specify a particular date of delivery for the new orders. If the delivery date is farther out, ship construction firms will delay work. So construction activity, on top of ship orders, gives investors further insight into managers’ expectation of future supply and demand differences as well as when and by how much supply will grow in the future.

Ship construction activity stabilizing as a whole

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From October 4 to 11, the number of ships under construction as a share of existing ships for Capesize vessels fell from 3.12% to 3.00% based on the last four weeks of average data to smooth the trend a little. This is a level not seen in the dry bulk shipping industry for years. Construction activity for Panamax ships also registered a decline: falling from 6.01% to 5.98%.

The current status of vessels under construction

  • Construction orders for Panamax vessels remain elevated compared to Supramax and Capesize vessels. So the mid-size vessel should see the largest supply increase over the short to medium term. But a falling construction level means lower supply growth ahead.
  • Construction activity for Capesize vessels remains most encouraging for new deliveries. The recent decline shows that new ship deliveries will continue to fall over the short to medium term. Plus, it’s important to note that construction of Capesize vessels takes longer because of their size.

Construction activity is basing

The current trend shows that construction isn’t ready to base yet, but the flatter downtrend shows that the construction-starts-to-delivery ratio is near balance point—the number of orders that are going into the construction process compared to those delivered to shipping companies matches up. This reflects management’s expectation of higher rates in the medium term.

Despite what several analysts caution, it’s unlikely that new ship deliveries will outpace demand because companies have recently experienced a touch period. Psychologically, managers aren’t going to rapid-fire new vessel orders like they did from 2006 to 2008. With good shipyards fully booked, based on CEOs’ inputs, investors should view the current trend as a medium-to-long-term positive for firms such as DryShips Inc. (DRYS), Diana Shipping Inc. (DSX), Navios Maritime Partners LP (NMM), Navios Maritime Holdings Inc. (NM), and Safe Bulkers Inc. (SB). Lower construction activity will drive supply growth lower and support shipping rates.

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