Making predictions about the shipping industry is as volatile an undertaking as the business of shipping itself. Who, for example, predicted that the Baltic Exchange would be sold to Singapore? The same people, presumably, who foretold that Donald Trump would be elected president of the United States, that Britain would vote to leave the European Union, and that Leicester City would win the English Premier League. Yet it all happened in 2016.
Predicting shipping’s fortunes in 2017 is as precise a science as foretelling the English weather. But some things are at least more likely to happen than not. Oil prices should continue on an upward trend on the strength of the recent OPEC production cuts. Calls for higher levels of ship demolition will increase significantly, although not ship demolition itself. The cost of meeting regulatory requirements will become clearer as the industry and its financiers grapple with the financial consequences of having to burn lower-sulphur bunker fuel whilst ensuring that their ballast water management systems are fit-for-purpose.
In common with other industries, shipping will be waiting to see whether Brexit really does mean Brexit. Orders will be placed for new ships. If they are not, a number of shipyards will go to the wall. For many, freight rates will continue to struggle to reach the levels required to ensure commercial viability, while consolidation will remain the buzzword in the liner trades.
If operating costs do not increase, concern will spread about whether quality and safety are being sacrificed. Both traditional and innovative sources of funding will remain accessible to those with sound business plans. And cyber security will move nearer the top of shipping’s list of things to address.
Confidence in shipping increased steadily for most of 2016, underlining just how robust the industry can be in difficult times. The inherent volatility of the industry will continue throughout 2017, during which time shipping will resort to tried and trusted methods and to fresh innovation alike in an effort to keep its head above water. Shipping will find a way.
Things that will not happen in 2017 include another major fall in oil prices, and a big increase in hull insurance rates. Leicester City will not win the Premier League.