Soft dollar could be double whammy for box ships

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

14 April 2016


In around two weeks’ time on 28 April the US Commerce Dept. will issue its figures for the first quarter of 2016. If recent events are anything to go by they may not be anything like as good as hoped. Economic indicators seem to be suggesting that the US economy is again running out of steam and that will have implications for all aspects of shipping. Crude oil prices have been volatile recently mostly because of the ‘will there, won’t there’ indecisiveness about a possible freeze in oil production. A 25% rise in crude price between the low in mid-January to around $40 in early March was very much a response to the idea of a freeze but the price has been showing a general downward trend again over the last couple of week on conflicting news coming out from major producers. The latest upward move is however much more due to a softening dollar as fears about a new slowdown emerge. Analysts have been reporting a marked slowdown and even the Federal Reserve is revising forecast down. It may not be a recession but the dollar is falling as a result. A falling dollar means that oil prices will rise accordingly and that is both good and bad for different shipping sectors. Good for the hard hit offshore sector although unlikely to be enough to cause a rethink on recently announced cutbacks and job reduction measures just yet, but bad news for the container and bulk sector. Both will likely see rises in bunker prices but for container ships any tightening of the consumer purse strings in the US will be another blow. Consumer spending in Europe too will probably be hit as oil prices rise adding to the lack of demand for goods normally carried by container liners. The real problem of course is not just the US economy but globalisation which has seen the purchasing power of Western consumers decline as production is moved eastwards and employment goes with it. It has taken a little time but the pigeons are now coming home to roost.