Time seems to drag when times are difficult. To the contrary, it seems to slip quickly by when you are having fun. These erroneous perceptions are familiar to most. As we all know, time goes by at the same measured pace, minute by minute, day by day. However after five to six years of a global recession, the shipping industry may be excused for feeling that it has been an eternity since buoyancy and growth were the norm.
As we go to press, celebrating the fifth anniversary of this publication, we note the continuing flow of mixed signals as we search for signs that suggest a return to life and balance sheets as we once knew them. And, like the proverbial drowning man, we instinctively grab at anything resembling hope that is floated.
The latest Shipping Confidence Survey from international accountant and shipping adviser Moore Stephens stated that overall confidence levels in the shipping industry increased slightly in the three months ended February 2012, to reach their highest level since May 2011. This was the third successive quarter in which there was a small improvement in confidence.
That aside, container and bulk shipping lines are still feeling the pinch, on both cheeks – excess capacity and weak freight rates – while being hammered by rising fuel costs. In some areas, rates have reportedly begun to improve, if only marginally, but not many are taking bets that the trend will persist. As one analyst points out, fuel prices may fall as demand drops off, but its price is driven by so many unconnected factors that it would be insane to base any cost predictions on a decreasing oil price.
Meanwhile, production in China’s factories fell for the third consecutive quarter between January and March, causing renewed fears for global shipping. Mixed signals indeed.
As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Caribbean Maritime, with the theme Ports and Terminals, we look back over the past five years that this publication has served the regional shipping industry. The recession into which Caribbean Maritime emerged in 2007 is still with us; however, it appears that things are not getting much worse, even if a recovery is not happening as fast as we would like. The IMF now expects growth to accelerate this year as Europe exits a ‘shallow recession’ and is predicting growth in Europe and the USA in 2013. The Panama Canal Expansion project, featured extensively in this issue, is proceeding apace and there are many other positives including a slight but continuing improvement in the US job market. Indeed, there are more positive signs now than at any time during the past five years and there has been significant growth and expansion of the maritime industry in the Caribbean and Latin America, as documented in this publication.
Mixed signals there are, but the good now seems to be outweighing the bad.