Why bulk buying could make sense

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

21 March 2017


The past 12 months have seen a sustained trend upwards ion the Baltic Dry Index from a low of just over 400 to around 1200 in mid-March. There was a dip from December through to February but the lost ground has been recovered. As always when markets start to improve, some thoughts go to future prospects for newbuildings. The market is a long way off the highs of 2010 or 2014 and economic prospects around the globe are a little troubled to say the least. It was less than a year ago that large scale demolitions were being called for to rebalance the market and while many ships have been sent to the scrap yards the number is below what was being suggested as necessary. So there are many who consider that talk of a fresh newbuilding surge is premature and will be detrimental. But for some owners ordering newbuildings now or in the next couple of years will make perfect sense. What with the ballast water convention and the 2020 sulphur cap, owners are looking at expensive times ahead. For some, fitting a ballast treatment system may be deferable until 2022 if they time the renewal of the IOPP right but that is the very last delay possible. Being generally traded internationally, bulk carriers are unlikely to benefit from any regional exemptions that might be established. And then there is the cost of meeting the 2020 cap. What compliant fuel might be available and at what cost is currently an unknown so for existing ships fitting a scrubber is possibly the safest course. But that again is a big outlay. Within a very short time, being able to sell a ship for further trading if it does not have both a ballast treatment system and a scrubber could prove very difficult. At the very least the price will be negotiated downwards to reflect the retrofit work needed. Currently some short-sighted owners may have more an eye on the current rising market than on extra costs a few years down the road so an astute seller could sell a mid-life vessel either to raise the cash for retrofitting other vessels in the fleet as necessary or to put aside for a future newbuilding that is compliant from the start. It is also likely that with only 27 months to go until a new phase of EEDI kicks in, ordering now or in the near future will allow more flexibility in design and specification. And because new orders are so hard to come by, now could be the chance to tie in yards to prices at the bottom of the market.