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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

China's Plan to Aid Shipbuilders May Add to Shipping Line Pain

Wednesday, 08 April 2009

China’s shipbuilding industry may be about to get a bailout -- from its customers. The government may force state-owned shipping groups to buy more vessels as foreign carriers scrap orders, according to Steve Man, an HSBC Holdings Plc analyst in Hong Kong. That risks increasing costs and overcapacity among shipping lines grappling with a collapse in global trade.
“They ‘encourage,’ but my thinking is it’s more of a directive,” said Man. “It hurts every player in the industry and creates excess capacity that will take longer to absorb after an upturn.”
A collapse in shipping rates led to a worldwide 95 percent decline in new vessel orders in March, according to Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker. In response to the drop in demand, China is drawing up plans to aid state-owned China State Shipbuilding Corp. and China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. that will likely force state-owned shipping groups to pick up orders abandoned by overseas lines, driving rates down further, analysts say.
“The major overhang for the shipbuilders is potential cancellations,” said Andy Meng, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. The “key message” in the government plan “is to protect order backlogs at the state-owned shipyards.”
Meng estimates as many as 60 percent of existing orders in China may be canceled over the next two years.
Sinotrans Shipping Ltd., the commodity-shipping unit of China National, may order more ships, depending on prices and market conditions, said spokesman George Yu. The company plans to spend $374.5 million on new ships this year and next, it said last month. China Shipping Development Co., the dry-bulk arm of China Shipping, hasn’t received any details about government plans yet, said spokeswoman Yao Qiaohong.
Plunge in Rates
Dry-bulk rates have slumped to unprofitable levels as China pares imports of iron ore, a key steelmaking ingredient, on slowing construction and cooling growth. The Baltic Dry Index, the benchmark for commodity-shipping costs, yesterday fell for a 19th straight day on April 6, extending its loss from a year ago to 81 percent.
China’s biggest shipbuilders, who construct more than 70 percent of dry-bulk carriers, haven’t won an order since October, according to Morgan Stanley. The shipyard stimulus may worsen the overcapacity that contributed to the Baltic Dry Index’s biggest decline in more than two decades.
China Cosco Holdings Co., the world’s largest operator of bulk cargo ships, last year canceled plans to order 126 new vessels as rates plunged. China Cosco spokesman Hu Yu said he wasn’t aware of any plans to buy more ships. The company had a fleet of 462 owned and chartered dry-bulk ships as of Sept. 30, with another 62 on order.
Modernizing Fleets
Shipyards will probably have to share some of the burden by lowering prices, HSBC’s Man said. The government may also sweeten the deal for shipping lines with aid, allowing lines to modernize fleets at reduced costs.
“If they let old vessels retire a bit earlier and buy more fuel-efficient ships at lower prices, it’s good for their future development,” said Jack Xu, a Shanghai-based analyst at Sinopac Securities Asia Ltd. “It all depends on how much in subsidies the government is going to give them.”
In a bid to revive rates, dry-bulk lines have laid up 15 percent of vessels, according to data complied by Bloomberg. They have also begun to axe orders placed two or three years ago when the market was booming. Chinese yards had 110 vessels canceled from October to the end of February, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. That was 1.4 percent of their backlog.
Only nine new vessels of any type were ordered worldwide last month, according to data compiled by Clarkson Plc. More cancellations are likely, as yards worldwide hold orders for dry-bulk ships with a combined capacity equal to 69 percent of the existing global fleet. As much as 65 percent of bulk ships due for delivery next year may be axed or delayed, followed by as much as 60 percent in 2011, according to HSBC.
Source: Bloomberg