Monday, September 14, 2009

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

President Obama, Wall Street - September 14,2009
And although I will never be satisfied while people are out of work and our financial system is weakened, we can be confident that the storms of the past two years are beginning to break.

As-of last week guys who are out and about in the real world getting their hands dirty and actually adding value are telling us that the storm is still blowing along at a good gust.

Here, on a sleepy stretch of shoreline at the far end of Asia, is surely the biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history. Their numbers are equivalent to the entire British and American navies combined; their tonnage is far greater. Container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers - all should be steaming fully laden between China, Britain, Europe and the US, stocking camera shops, PC Worlds and Argos depots ahead of the retail pandemonium of 2009. But their water has been stolen.

This is why the chilliest financial winds anywhere in the City of London are to be found blowing through its 400-plus shipping brokers.

Between them, they manage about half of the world's chartering business. The bonuses are long gone. The last to feel the tail of the economic whiplash, they - and their insurers and lawyers - await a wave of redundancies and business failures in the next six months. Commerce is contracting, fleets rust away - yet new ship-builds ordered years ago are still coming on stream.
Just 12 months ago these financiers and brokers were enjoying fat bonuses as they traded cargo space. But nobody wants the space any more, and those that still need to ship goods across the world are demanding vast reductions in price.

Do not tell these men and women about green shoots of recovery. As Briton Tim Huxley, one of Asia's leading ship brokers, says, if the world is really pulling itself out of recession, then all these idle ships should be back on the move.

'This is the time of year when everyone is doing all the Christmas stuff,' he points out.

'A couple of years ago those ships would have been steaming back and forth, going at full speed. But now you've got something like 12 per cent of the world's container ships doing nothing.'

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