Ravi Mehrotra: grandfather of booms is yet to come

Shipping is in the doldrums but any industry survivors by 2016 might ride the wave of growth in China and India, executive says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 4:03am

Hard-pressed shipowners, facing a triple whammy of a slump in charter rates, low cargo growth and a drop in ship values, will have to wait another four years for the next shipping boom, a top shipping executive has warned.

Ravi Mehrotra, executive chairman of the Foresight shipping, hospitality and retailing group, said the recovery would depend on the impact from the second phase of China's urbanisation and India's expansion.

"This is may be the grandfather of all the previous booms as both China's phase two and India's phase-one growth story will be unstoppable," he told around 85 Hong Kong maritime executives. "The question is who will survive until 2016."

Rumours are growing in Hong Kong's maritime community about the health of private mainland shipowner Hebei Ocean Shipping and associate North China Lines. Some Hong Kong owners have also sought additional bank financing.

Italy's Deiulemar Shipping, which used the Hong Kong courts two years ago to pursue claims for payment on dry cargo derivatives against another shipping company, Transfield ER Futures, became the latest corporate casualty after declaring bankruptcy last week, with debts of more than €500 million (HK$5.01 billion).

Mehrotra said China's second-phase expansion would focus on the development of second- and third-tier cities in the interior of the country.

He thought India would take-off after 2015-2016 "when the Indian economy will develop critical mass" as GDP grows to US$3.5 trillion per year.

The growth would fuel a surge in rates across the three main shipping sectors. Container ship operators would benefit from rising imports of consumer goods, rising oil imports would buoy tanker owners and soaring demand for commodities such as iron ore, coal, and metals would aid dry bulk shipping companies.

The last shipping boom between 2003 and 2008 saw average daily charter rates for large ore and coal carrying ships top more than US$200,000, while rates for massive supertankers nudged US$300,000 per day in late 2007.

By comparison average daily freight rates were down last Friday to US$14,700 for large dry cargo ships and US$6,900 for supertankers, according to shipbroker Clarkson. Ship values have fallen 20 per cent compared with March last year.

The falls reflected a slowing cargo growth due to economic woes in western economies and an oversupply of ships. Reflecting the downturn, Maersk Line said it would cut capacity by 11 per cent on Asia-Europe routes by closing one service in November and suspending another immediately. Vincent Clerc, Masersk Line chief trade and marketing officer, said: "We expect a 3 per cent slump on the Asia-Europe container trades for 2012."