Hypo Venture Capital Headlines: Is the global economy back on an even keel?

http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/asia-pacific/is-the-global-economy-back-on-an-even-keel

Day rates for the movement of goods around the world hit their peak in early 2008, a few months before the global financial crisis. Which direction are these same prices heading in now, and can the shipping industry help predict the direction of the global economy?

Day rates for the movement of goods around the world hit their peak in early 2008, a few months before the global financial crisis. Which direction are these same prices heading in now, and can the shipping industry help predict the direction of the global economy?

Munshi Ahmed / Bloomberg

A port in Singapore. Around 90 per cent of all the world’s goods are transported by sea, meaning that when economic activity is strong, the shipping industry is buoyant.

A port in Singapore. Around 90 per cent of all the world’s goods are transported by sea, meaning that when economic activity is strong, the shipping industry is buoyant.

Bloomberg

Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi, which is being constructed between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world.

Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi, which is being constructed between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the world.

Forty-two floors up, from the window of Mercator’s meeting room, Singapore stretches out, a landscape of order, dotted with trees and water.

To the south, a haze of humidity hangs on the horizon, reducing the Indonesian islands to no more than an outline. Ships, trawlers and tankers sit between these two points, like toys in a bath, motionless in their motion. These are some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the blue of the ocean endlessly crossed by small black lines, keeping the economy of the world moving.

In the meeting room far above the sea, K Srivastava, a vice president of Mercator in Singapore, is explaining why the company he works for adopted a cautious approach during the heady days of the first half of 2008.

“We could see the cracks,” he says, “We could see the cracks very visibly because the day rates were so high. That on a long-term basis with that kind of day rates, one wonders whether any business can be sustainable.”

Mercator is one of the world’s leading dry bulk shipping companies, a company that moves vast quantities of dry goods – grains, coal, iron ore – around the world, servicing the factories and industries that keep the global economy moving.

Back in 2008, in the months before the financial markets collapsed, the per-day price for moving a shipment was vast. Companies such as Mercator were making huge profits. By one estimate, the shipping industry made an estimated US$ 80 billion (Dh294bn) in profits in 2004. But something didn’t quite add up.

“We found the day rates were too high, [too] unrealistic. The day rates were about $ 80,000 (Dh294,000) to $ 100,000 in the peak of times. So everybody who has a ship was earning $ 100,000 per day. Now that has a couple of implications. Operating costs for a ship are typically in the range of $ 5,000 per day. If you were to say you are earning $ 100,000 and operating costs are $ 5,000 … it’s still a lot of money. And therefore something had to be bizarre there.”

Mercator’s reaction to this situation was to hold fast, not taking on loans or debts. The day rates, notes Srivastava, were at their highest level for a decade. Other indexes were also high, at record levels. The Baltic Dry Index (BDI), a measure of the daily average cost to ship dry bulk commodities, was at record levels.

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