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The 100 most influential people in shipping revealed

Friday 12 December 2014, 00:01

by Lloyd's List Editorial

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Lloyd's List's annual Top 100 ranking of power and influence explains why 2014 has been a year of big dreams and chutzpah for shipping

REMEMBER the Monty Python riff:
“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition?”

Well, here we are.

Are containerships getting too big? Try 20,000 teu monsters.

Has peak oil ensured that the price of crude will stay high for ages? Enter the shale gas

And what about all those shipping giants that last year were saying offshore was the place to be?

Click here to read the full Lloyd's List Top 100

Now oil prices are down to where you can finally afford to drive to see your Aunt Martha at Christmas; offshore looks a little threadbare, shipping more attractive.

It might then be a good time to buy up the available slots in South Korea and reliable shipyards in China. Oh, but Scorpio’s already done that.

And dry bulk shipping has a beautiful future, except not in 2015, which had been looking promising until about yesterday.

Now, dire is the word that comes to mind.

Mix and stir and you have the recipe for a very interesting year since we last published our Lloyd’s List Top 100.

Look no further than the unexpected events that have characterised 2014’s agenda of surprises

Our top dog, Xi Jinping, China’s president, stands for the new confidence and influence of his nation, illustrated by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce’s blockbuster decision in June to scuttle the planned P3 Alliance between Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co and CMA CGM.

Although China’s economy is slowing, it’s been a good year for the nation on the world stage, and in maritime affairs as well.

MofCom’s P3 opinion served as the year’s most influential global antitrust decision, and mirrored the drives to squash anti-competitive actions by domestic and foreign companies within China.

Before Xi took power, initiatives such as the Maritime Silk Road from China to Africa smacked of five-year plan bombast. Under Xi, it looks formidable.

And how do you like that oil price?

At the time of writing, West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark, was at $67 per barrel. The factors driving prices down are not particularly unexpected — but they feel like a surprise.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, on Saudi Arabia’s initiative, has refused to limit its output in a bid to drive the price below where US shale gas producers can no longer afford to frack their way to riches.

Who knows how long this can go on before Opec gets weak knees or discovers rebels among its ranks, but until it does, the price of crude is on an elevator going down.

Oil at $60 per barrel will spark enormous changes in the shipping markets, shifting volumes on trade routes, deflecting offshore investors back to shipping stocks, and even improving China’s growth rates as energy costs sink, restoring import demand.

Another message from the shipping world that’s hard to ignore: if you’re feeling over-extended, just extend some more. You’ll always find the money.

With private equity backing, main-street investors and banks can always be encouraged to pony up.

Shipping is one of the last arenas in global business in which an individual can launch a Grand Plan and find the funding avenues to keep on going.

After cornering the chemical tanker newbuilding market, Scorpio’s Emanuele Lauro has moved on to dry bulk and most recently into the largest of the ultra large containerships.

It’s a bid that would have made Onassis proud.

We’re still waiting to see how it pans out, particularly in dry bulk, where two new monster mash-ups have entered the scene as competition.

Step forward Star Bulk Ocean Carriers, the result of a merger between the eponymous company and Oceanbulk creating the largest US-listed dry bulk operator, and two John Fredrikson entities, Golden Ocean and Knightsbridge, which will soon seal a merger creating another dry bulk giant.

The dry bulk world is a risky place to be just now.

Star Bulk is striding ahead, but faces a funding shortfall for its new buildings of $102m. Few worry that it will find the funds.

George Economou, the Greek shipping tycoon and founder and chief executive of New York-listed DryShips, had to scramble this fall to plug a funding gap for a $700m bond repayment.

He eventually launched a new stock issue, with a pledge to buy $80m of new shares with his own money. He made the payment deadline in December.

If 2015 does turn out to be troublesome for dry bulk rates, many big dry bulk operators will have to find ways to obtain new cash, or hoard the larder they have achieved through savings such as cutting dividends.

But who knows.

The Spanish Inquisition was a bad, bad thing. But shipping surprises can come on the upside, too.

Markets turn around quickly; geopolitical events create risk and opportunity and the canniest shipowners always survive, somehow.

It is these survivors, from China to Greece to Wall Street, that colour the industry’s identity.

Long may they prosper.

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