Forward cover, an indicator of shipbuilders’ future work levels, is still declining at a global level. On a regional basis there are some interesting trends, with forward cover highest at European yards and at record lows at South Korean yards. This month’s Shipbuilding Focus investigates what factors have been behind these changes and how the situation may develop.
Regional Peaks And Troughs
Forward cover is one measure of shipbuilders’ future work, calculated here in CGT terms by dividing the current orderbook by the previous year’s output level. While as an indicator it fails to capture changes in shipyard capacity by relying on the previous year’s delivery data and doesn’t account for the impact of slippage and cancellation, it is still a useful measure of the shipbuilding industry’s health. Global forward cover is now at 2.3 years, low but not quite at the 2012 trough of 2.1 years. Korean yards’ forward cover has reached a historical low of 1.5 years, falling by 49% from its last peak in 2014. Meanwhile, Chinese yards’ forward cover has declined by 40% since 2014 and currently stands at 2.4 years. Japanese yards’ forward cover has fluctuated less, declining by 32% since its last peak in 2015 and is currently at 2.6 years. Conversely, European yards’ cover is the highest at a healthy 4.2 years and has increased by 8% in the year to date.
The Whys And Wherefores
Many factors influence forward cover, with recent declines at the ‘big 3’ builder countries largely caused by weak contracting which has depleted yards’ orderbooks. In China and Korea, strong deliveries have further reduced forward cover and the Chinese and Korean orderbooks have decreased by 36% and 44% respectively since start 2016 in CGT terms. The strong level of forward cover in CGT terms at European yards reflects their dominance in the cruise ship sector, with European yards’ orderbook stretching out to 2025. Meanwhile, Japanese shipyards’ relatively more stable contracting and delivery volumes have helped maintain a steady level of forward cover.
Looking To The Future
Needless to say falling levels of forward cover does not bode well for shipbuilders. As of 1st May 2017, there are 369 active shipyards globally (with a 1,000+ GT vessel on order). Of these yards, only 44% are reported to have taken a newbuild order in 2016 or 2017 and 39% are scheduled to deliver all vessels on their orderbook by the end of 2017. Furthermore, only 26% have delivery slots booked further than 2018. If, for example, in 2017 there is the same level of contracting as in 2016, and assuming yards deliver around 33m CGT in full year 2017, we could see global forward cover drop below 2 years by the start of 2018. Even if ordering doubled year-on-year in 2017, global forward cover would simply remain steady at 2.3 years.
So, forward cover is falling for most builder countries as the global orderbook declines. This largely reflects historically weak newbuild contracting as well as relatively steady delivery levels. With forward cover likely to decline further or at best remain steady, the significant pressure on shipyards’ to build up their orderbooks is clear.