Piling on the pressure

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

29 July 2016


There was not a lot for shipping to cheer about this week as several companies with shipping connections reported latest financial results. At the beginning of the week, BP posted its third straight quarterly loss. Statoil, where the Norwegian government has a 67% stake, actually reported a loss in the second quarter, a rare event and a precursor to similar sorry reports from most other oil majors. Shell suffered a 72% drop in quarterly earnings and ConocoPhillips and Total also announced steep drops in earnings on Thursday. Today Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Eni are due to report. Crude oil prices, which are at the root the storm the oil companies are hoping to ride out, also look to be heading back down. Having hit a low of around $25 in January there had been a gradual climb back to the $50 dollar mark through to June but the price could end this week at under $40 and most signs are that it has reached a peak for 2016. The fall in the oil price comes at a time when the US authorities have just decided against a rise in US interest rates. An interest rate rise would have signalled a stronger dollar which would push crude prices down so the fact that the fall goes against expectations is a sure sign that those who forecast oil would end the year below$30 may still be proved right. Not good news for offshore companies and this week major player Singapore-based Swiber was placed in provisional liquidation while two Norwegian operators Rem and Solstad are to merge. Rolls-Royce which has a large exposure to offshore suffered an 80% drop in interim profit which surprisingly sparked a rise in share prices as this was better than feared. Of course Rolls-Royce has interests outside of shipping and so its problems are not all connected with offshore. It also had much to cheer as last week it signed a contract worth about $33 million with Norwegian shipbuilder Kleven to design and equip two new polar cruise ships. The contract between Kleven and Rolls-Royce follows the conversion of a letter of intent into a firm contract signed between Kleven and Hurtigruten. The contract includes an option for two additional vessels. There was also a threatening development for container ship operators when supply chain and logistics specialist Panalpina announced a partnership with US-based 3D printing company, Shapeways. This is something that could see a seismic shift in production and transport of many items now considered the province of traditional manufacturing and shipping concerns. Shapeways already offers a service to small organisations producing small quantities of anything from toys to jewellery in many different materials. It hopes to benefit from Panalpina’s global reach and facilities in major manufacturing sectors. For its part, Panalpina has invested in 3D printers and was already exploring the potential in pilot projects. The ability to produce a range of goods in single facilities close to end markets will be something that will inevitably reduce shipping volumes as the concept takes off.