International shipping activity is closely linked to developments in the world economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the world economy grew by 3.4 percent in 2022 and expects this growth to slow to 2.9 percent in 20231. This is significantly lower than the average growth figure from 2000 to 2019, which was 3.8 percent. Interest rate increases by central banks to counter inflation, together with Russia’s war in Ukraine, have contributed to a reduction in global economic activity.
The USA and Europe must be prepared for lower growth and China may enter a period of lower GDP. While Western economies are threatened by inflation and interest rate rises, which in turn means reduced purchasing power, China is struggling with the repercussions of its previous zero-tolerance policy for Covid-19 that has resulted in limited mobility in the workforce and general population.
The rapid spread of Covid-19 in China dampened growth in 2022, but the recent reopening has paved the way for a faster-than-expected recovery. Global inflation is expected to fall from 8.8 percent in 2022 to 6.6 percent in 2023 and 4.3 percent in 2024 but remains above pre-pandemic (2017-19) levels of around 3.5 percent.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has put considerable pressure on energy and commodity markets. At its peak, the price of natural gas rose to EUR 352.10 per megawatt hour (MWh) on the Dutch trading exchange TTF. The Brent crude price reached USD 139.10 per barrel at its highest. Records were also set for oil products, coal and other commodities such as wheat.
Throughout the year, the price of natural gas in Europe has dropped to EUR 60 per MWh and the Brent price is now below USD 85 per barrel. This is largely thanks to increased production and transport of oil and gas, both from Norway and the USA, in which Norwegian maritime players and others have played very much a key role.
Demand for ships increased by 6.1 percent in 2021. In 2022, demand rose by a further 5.9 percent on an annual basis. This year, Lorentzen & Co expects ship demand to be 5.2 percent. By comparison, growth in demand for ships was at 4.6 percent in the years 2009 to 2019. Increased demand combined with a reluctance from yards to offer new berths, together with uncertainty among shipowners over contracting conventional tankers and bulk carriers, results in a high utilization rate for the shipping fleet. The utilization rate for the total fleet is still rising and is expected to be as high as 87.7 percent this year.
At the same time, delays in logistics chains that also have contributed to higher transport costs and thereby higher inflation in Western economics have normalised. Shipping’s contribution to inflation has thus been eliminated in practice and rates in several segments - including container shipping - are back at pre-pandemic levels.
Overall revenues for shipping companies organized in the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association increased by around 25 percent in 2022. The large growth in revenues is mainly due to a significant boost in turnover of 27 percent among shipping companies engaged in overseas transport (deep sea), and similar corresponding growth of 28 percent among offshore service companies. In addition, passenger shipping companies have more than doubled their revenues from the previous year.
Deep sea companies had a total turnover of around NOK 149 billion in 2022, up from 116 billion in 2021. Much of this growth can be attributed to general growth in demand for tonnage in the global market as a result of trade picking up after the significant drawdown at the start of the corona pandemic. The war in Ukraine has also increased demand for tonnage for transport of gas and oil. Research firm Kpler reports that Europe’s LNG imports increased from 23 percent to 39 percent of the continent’s total gas imports last year. Shipborne LNG imports have become a crucial part of the solution to cover the loss of pipeline imports. However, it appears the strong turnover growth in the deep sea segment will normalize in 2023.
Offshore service shipping companies have seen a significant upswing in activity on the Norwegian continental shelf, which is mainly driven by Europe’s need to replace Russian oil and gas. The increased activity is also reflected in these companies’ turnover in 2022. Turnover in this segment increased by 28 percent in 2022, with total turnover of around NOK 75 billion. Turnover has still not reached the level prevailing before the oil crisis in 2014. At the same time, the segment expects an increase in turnover of about 26 percent in 2023, which would lead to the segment having higher turnover for the first time since before the oil crisis in 2014.
Passenger shipping companies have also experienced a large growth in turnover in 2022. Turnover in this segment has more than doubled, rising by 119 percent. This is due, of course, to the fact that a total shutdown was effectively imposed on this segment as a consequence of Covid-19. But, at the beginning of 2022, there were also limitations and entry restrictions that affected turnover. As a result, this segment also expects further growth in 2023 to return to a normal level.
In the short sea segment that transports goods to, from and within Europe, 2022 was more like a normal year, with turnover growth of around three percent. This is significantly reduced growth compared with the peak year in 2021. At the same time, this segment expects a significant increase in turnover in 2023, with growth of around 15 percent.
For rig companies, the negative turnover trend that occurred in the wake of the oil crisis in 2014 continues. In 2022, rig companies’ turnover fell by another one percent and a further reduction of five percent is expected in 2023. Several rig companies point out that 2023 will remain a weak year and that the upturn will start to kick in from 2024 and 2025.
There are large variations between segments in terms of expectations for operating profit in 2023.
The greatest optimism is to be found in the offshore service segment. Here, three out of four state that they expect a better operating profit in 2023 than in 2022. There is a natural correlation between expectations of higher operating profit and the fact that activity in the oil and gas sector is expected to be high throughout the year, with associated high demand for tonnage. Such a development could offer a rate level that would yield improved operating margins.
At the opposite end of the scale are rig companies, of which nearly half expect weaker operating profits this year. There are though divergent views within this segment. About 4 out of 10 expect improved operating profit in 2023. At the same time, around half of the companies state that they expect a reduced operating profit in 2023.
This description of the situation can also be found in the market comments from respondents in this segment. Here, some shipping companies state that they expect activity to pick up already in the coming year, while other companies do not expect activity to pick up until 2024 and 2025.
Within the deep sea segment, some shipping companies have had a year with very large turnover growth and good operating results. This growth is particularly related to growth in world trade in the wake of the pandemic, as well as increased demand for non-Russian energy in Europe.
Growth looks set to stabilize somewhat in 2023, though there is also a spread of opinion in the deep sea segment. Certain segments, such as tankers, shuttle tankers and ro-ro vessels, still expect an improvement in operating results, while bulk shipping companies are more cautious in their expectations and several of these companies expect a reduced operating result.
The short sea segment, like offshore service, is optimistic about 2023. In line with expectations of a significant increase in turnover, the majority of shipping companies also expect an improved operating result.
In the passenger shipping segment, most of the companies report that the operating result will remain unchanged, and one out of three cite expectations of improved operating results.
It is natural to see expectations of an improved operating result in the context of 2023 being the first year after the pandemic where passenger ships can freely sail without restrictions on either the number of passengers or country entry.
It is particularly the offshore and passengership segments that report a demanding situation with regard to access to capital. Both offshore service and rig companies have struggled with persistently weak operating results since the oil crisis in 2014.
The demands in relation to supply of capital may indicate that financial markets have not yet normalized in these segments, despite increased activity, especially in offshore service. At the same time, it is reasonable to assume that some of the tight capital supply is also because financial institutions are increasingly reducing their climate risk and turning their investments towards the renewable sector.
For the deep sea and short sea transport segments, it appears capital availability has tightened somewhat compared with previous years. Our surveys show that there are high expectations of contracting new ships over the coming years and that by far the biggest barrier for investments in climate technology is investment costs. This shows that better access to capital for shipping companies will be crucial to ensure the transition to more climate-friendly solutions.
Access to capital remains very demanding for passengership companies. Despite the fact that activity has picked up in the wake of the pandemic, none of the passenger shipping companies report that they have good access to capital. This is also reflected in expectations for contracting where only one company cites an expectation for one ship to be contracted over the next five years.
As of January 2023, there were a total of 57 ships and rigs in lay-up. Of these, it is mainly in the offshore segments there are still lay-ups, with 36 offshore service vessels and 18 rigs. The expectations in last year’s survey of around 55 ships and rigs remaining in lay-up at the end of 2022 are therefore very accurate. However, we see that optimism among rig companies did not materialize, though in return activity within offshore service has exceeded expectations.
The forecast for the end of 2023 is a further reduction in the number of ships in lay-up. The shipping companies expect that 28 ships and rigs will remain in lay-up by year-end. All of these will be linked to the offshore segments, divided respectively into 17 offshore service vessels and 11 rigs. As our survey indicates there is little expectation of ship recycling in 2023, we associate the further reduction in lay-up figures mainly with increased activity.
Emerging optimism associated with activity growth in most segments is also influencing the contracting ambitions of shipping companies. Ever since the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association started mapping shipowners’ contracting ambitions back in 2018, no such high figures have been registered as this year. Shipping companies are now considering contracting a total of 215 ships, with a special emphasis on deep sea and offshore service. These plans will generate increased activity across the maritime cluster and increased shipbuilding in the offshore service segments could also mean a welcome growth in activity at Norwegian shipyards.
It is particularly in offshore service that the growth in contracting plans has been greatest. From having plans for 25 ships in 2020, the segment now has plans to build 84 ships over the next five years. A large proportion will be vessels being built for the offshore wind industry. There has also been an ever-increasing tendency among deep sea shipowners. Shipping companies in this segment are now considering plans to build 90 ships. Nine out of 10 shipping companies within offshore service and deep sea report that they will equip the ships with technology that is ready for climate-neutral solutions.
There is also a growing tendency in contracting plans within the short sea segment. Shipping companies in this segment are now reporting they intend to build 27 ships in the next five years. This is an increase of about 25 percent from last year. All shipping companies in this segment state that they will equip these ships with technology that is ready for climate-neutral solutions.
We also see that the rate of recycling will decrease significantly in 2023. Hardly any ships will be recycled and the total figure for all segments is five ships. This may indicate that shipping companies, and especially offshore service companies, have created a better market balance by withdrawing a lot of tonnage in recent years. In addition, the increased growth in activity and associated increased demand for tonnage make it more relevant to keep older tonnage in operation.
Norwegian shipping companies largely want to make use of Norwegian shipyards. This is particularly evident in the passenger shipping segment, offshore service and short sea. At the same time, there is a gap between the desire to use Norwegian yards and whether Norwegian yards can actually be considered relevant. This is especially applicable within the short sea segment.
Almost 9 out of 10 shipping companies state that costs are a barrier to using Norwegian shipyards. In many cases, Norwegian yards are considerably more expensive than comparable yards both in Europe and Asia. For deep sea shipping companies, capacity challenges are also emerging as one of the biggest barriers. As many as 7 out of 10 cite capacity challenges as a barrier. To a large extent, it is about the fact that yards are not building the type of ships that are in demand, or do not have a sufficiently large dry dock to handle the sizes of ship that sail in deep sea.