Despite predictions that the long downturn in the cyclical tanker market might be bottoming out, shipowners are remaining on the sideline holding back on new shipbuilding orders. Shipbuilding orders in the segment have reached a new low with industry trade group BIMCO forecasting that it is likely to cause a decline in the global tanker fleet in the near term. However, the contraction in the global fleet might be the good news needed to start the long expected, but frequently delayed, rebound for the sector.
In a new analysis of the shipbuilding market, BIMCO chief shipping analyst Niels Rasmussen reports that orders for both crude oil and product tankers reached a new low for during the first six months of 2022. “Unless contracting picks up, it seems that we may see both the crude and product tanker fleet reducing in size in the coming years,” forecasts Rasmussen.
By the numbers, BIMCO’s data shows that a total of just 23 new tankers were ordered so far in 2022. This amounts to a total of just 1.6 million dwt compared to a previous low of 3 million dwt in 1999. Orders included just three new crude oil tankers and 19 product tankers.
“The orderbook for to fleet ratio is at 5.1 percent for both crude and product tankers,” writes Rasmussen. He concludes that the ratio has not been this low since 1996, 28 years ago during another down cycle in the industry.
UK analysts at Clarksons Research made similar observations in their recent mid-year analysis of the shipbuilding industry. “The tanker orderbook is now the smallest it has been in 25 years,” wrote Clarksons. They calculated that there are just 35 million dwt in orders in the crude and product tanker categories. By comparison, containerships jumped to lead with the global orderbook reaching 72.5 million dwt as of mid-2022.
Despite improved freight rates and a positive market outlook as the tanker sectors seeks to respond to the sanctions on Russian oil, shipowners are holding back on orders. Rasmussen highlights several factors that are likely contributing to the reluctance to place orders. Shipbuilding prices skyrocketed in 2022 surging to their highest levels in 14 years. Further, weighing on the entire shipbuilding industry is an uncertainty over future technologies and increasing emissions regulations. Ship owners have been looking for the best technologies to future proof their investments, with Bimco highlighting that at the moment they are generally favoring LNG with most orders although methanol is drawing increasing attention in shipbuilding.
Near-term, Rasmussen expects that with the decline in orders that size of the global fleet will contract. He points to a projected rate of three percent for demolitions each year while the current build ratio remains low compared to the fleet size. Further, BIMCO highlights that up to seven percent of the tanker sector is now at least 20 years old while nearly a quarter is approaching 15 years in service.
They forecast that the contraction in the fleet, continued demand for oil in the near term, and potential freight rate increases as the markets rebalance in 2023 after the EU’s ban on Russian oil starts, are likely to create the need for new shipbuilding orders. Until those orders can be completed, carriers are likely to see a strengthening in the market as excess capacity declines, but longer-term term BIMCO points to increasing uncertainty as oil demand is expected to peak in the coming decade as the world accelerates its transition to new forms of energy.