China's shipbuilding industry is heading for its worst year for new orders won in the decade or so since the mainland shipping boom began, according to industry figures.
Shipbrokers said a combination of factors, including overcapacity, difficulty in raising cash and low freight rates, had deterred shipowners from ordering new vessels.
'The influx of new tonnage hitting the water in the past few years has hit the big three markets - dry cargo, tankers and container ships, forcing down freight rates as overcapacity outpaced the growth in cargo volumes,' one Hong Kong shipbroker said.
Economic conditions in Europe and North America and slowing growth in China had also dampened demand, while tighter monetary controls following the global financial crisis triggered by the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse had made it harder for shipowners to secure finance to pay for the ships, he added.
'The downturn is affecting shipbuilders not just in China, but in the two other large shipbuilding countries, South Korea and Japan,' a rival Hong Kong-based shipbroker said. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy in Seoul said the export value of ships and offshore structures produced by South Korean shipbuilders could fall to US$43 billion this year, down from a record US$54.5 billion last year, and the first annual drop in 19 years.
Figures released this month by British shipbroking house Clarkson show that China's shipyards secured contracts for just 182 ships in the first six months of the year. Last year the shipyards won orders for 561 vessels. The number of orders is down from the peak of 2,036 vessels secured in 2007 and 463 ships in 2004.
In tonnage terms, Chinese shipyards secured deals for 3 million cgt (compensated gross tonnes) between January and June this year, against 32.54 million cgt at the peak in 2007.
Clarkson figures show that 46 out of 180 shipyards listed failed to deliver a single vessel last year.
One of the worst-affected provinces is Jiangsu, home to many large shipyards including China's biggest shipbuilder, China Rongsheng Heavy Industries.
Figures from the provincial commission of economy and information technology show the province's shipyards received deals for 72 new ships in the first five months. This was down 61.7 per cent compared with the same period last year.
China Rongsheng Heavy Industries, headquartered in Rugao, confirmed that it failed to win a single new shipbuilding order in the first six months of this year. The last deal the shipyard secured was in early December with a firm order for 10 157,000 dwt (deadweight tonne) oil tankers with an option for 10 similar ships from Hong Kong-based Global Union Shipping.
But China Rongsheng is hoping for a brighter second half. 'The good news is that we have some orders pending but not ready to announce. These pending orders include tankers, dry bulk and offshore,' a shipyard spokesman said.
The firm, which is building a series of 400,000 dwt very large ore carriers for Vale, the Brazilian commodities miner, had an order backlog for 98 ships totalling 15.5 million dwt at the end of June.
Tim Huxley, chief executive of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport, said: 'Some analysts have reported that 90 per cent of mainland shipyards have received no new orders in 2012 and 28 per cent have not received any new orders since 2009. With shipbuilding prices now below break even, it's inevitable that many of the privately owned yards will be mothballed, closed down or switch to alternative uses such as ship repair or ship scrapping. In many cases, these yards rely on sub-contracted labour so it is easier for the owners to reduce headcount.'
He added: 'The big state-owned yards, some of which still have a healthy order book, are suffering as well. But while they may scale back output and try and switch to new business lines such as offshore structures, where there is at least still some demand, they will survive.'
The number of vessels ordered from China's shipyards last year
- The yards received orders for 182 ships in the first half of this year