Billionaire Wilbur Ross is a renowned debt investing expert who has turned bullish on the shipping industry; believing there are a number of opportunities in the dry bulk and container ship markets. Ross started his own firm in 2000, specializing in distressed investing (check out all the stocks Ross owns).
Private equity has also been showing interest in shipping. Major private equity firms have been buying up shipping vessels of late, including Blackstone's buy of nine refined-product tankers toward the end of 2012. Ross also snatched up a majority stake in Navigator Holdings, a shipping industry leader. While a number of stocks and industries might be considered economic bellwethers, one of the most overlooked is shipping. The slowdown in the global economy has decimated the shipping industry, where the Baltic Dry Index is down 75% over the last three years.
Industry consolidation should help drive the industry higher. This will help better capitalize the industry and reduce its fragmentation. Part of what should help push the industry even higher will be a rebound in both the U.S. and global economies. Shipping still transports 90% of the world’s food, consumer and energy products, and assuming the world economy picks up, so should these shippers. Key products for spurring a rebound in the shipping industry will be agriculture, manufacturing and energy production.
…one of the most capital-intensive industries I know, and yet uniquely it’s highly fragmented. It has not become oligopolistic, despite being inherently global and capital-intensive. We think that will begin to change as we go through this extremely traumatic period that we’re in.
The industry. Shipping containers transport 200 times the volume that parcel carriers like FedEx or UPS. Also boding well for the industry is a rise in shipping rates, which includes a rise in the average spot rates -- including a 50% rise in rates year over year as of late 2012 from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.
The Journal of Commerce sees capacity rising 10% in 2013, with the supply-demand balance breaking even in 2014. There is still room for the shipping industry to go higher, as charter rates were up 20% at the end of 2012 from their all-time 2009 lows, but they still remain 55% below their long-term 20-year average. The JOC projects U.S. import growth of 5.2% in 2013, and exports advancing 4.3%. IHS Global Insight also expects the shipping market to expand in 2013, forecasting market growth of 5% to 6% annually through 2015.
Some of the major shippers include DryShips Inc. (NASDAQ:DRYS), Box Ships Inc (NYSE:TEU), International Shipholding Corporation (NYSE:ISH) , Costamare Inc (NYSE:CMRE) and Kirby Corporation (NYSE:KEX).