It’s an interesting time to be rejoining the editorial side of covering project and heavy-lift shipping. We’re all familiar with that ‘ancient Chinese’ curse, “May you live in interesting times” — a curse that, naturally, is neither ancient nor Chinese — but no matter the expression’s lineage, its irony is real enough. However, I’ve been studying my ratty copy of Martin Stopford’s Maritime Economics, and I’m reminded that shipping is everlastingly interesting.
We’re entering uncertain times for global trade, despite a US economy with a more than 2 percent annual GDP growth rate at the end of a long economic expansion, and even as fleet consolidation and an upswing in freight rates allow the long-suffering heavy-lift/multipurpose vessel sector some breathing room.
Normally, a rising price of oil like the one we’re seeing would be a good sign for the sector, notwithstanding the concomitant rise in bunkers, because it implies increased capital investment and a growing project pipeline down the road. The careening nature of current US trade and energy policies, however, appears to be slowing some decision-making on the shippers’ side.
News sources report a marginal slowdown in global trade growth. Tit-for-tat tariffs will affect only a sliver of this massive trade, at least for starters, but a climate of uncertainty is always bad for business. From soybean farmers to automakers, from steel traders to oil and gas majors, companies show a growing reluctance to make investment decisions.
But, as Stopford reminds me, all this too shall pass.
In 2008, oil traded at $147 per barrel
I began writing about maritime trade and shipping as a freelancer for Gulf Shipper in early 2006. Pretty soon, I was covering the shipping news from the Texas-Mexico border to the tip of Florida. I wrote about ports, natural disasters (Hurricane Katrina, anyone?), container shipping, vessels, services, dredging — and because I covered Houston, the US (maybe the world) center for project cargo, I learned all about project and breakbulk cargo transportation and logistics. In 2008, oil reached $147 per barrel and the heavy-lift/multipurpose vessel world was practically on fire. Good heavens, was it ever a carrier’s market.
Of course, we all know what happened in 2009.
Gulf Shipper was one of several, regional shipping magazines published by The Journal of Commerce back when people relied on printed sailing schedules. Eventually, all those schedules moved online, and The Journal of Commerce closed its regionals and folded them into one publication: Breakbulk. In 2009, I became Breakbulk’s editor, and in 2011, senior editor. Then, as our Breakbulk trade exhibitions multiplied and grew, I became more involved with event programming, moving almost completely to the event side in 2013.
The Journal of Commerce and Breakbulk Events & Media were sold separately in 2015, JOC to IHS (now IHS Markit) and Breakbulk to ITE Exhibitions. Now, and with some admittedly mixed feelings, I’ve said my goodbyes to Breakbulk and come back to The Journal of Commerce. I’m excited to be rejoining this esteemed company and talented editorial team.
I’m certainly looking forward to more interesting times.
Janet Nodar is JOC.com’s senior editor, breakbulk and heavy lift. Contact Nodar at email@example.com.