Guesses made by Clarksons’ clients last year as to the extent of rises in the shipbroker’s ClarkSea Index of key rates have proved way off the mark. It seems nobody could have foreseen record rates for containerships and bulkers in booming markets. Every year, readers of the UK group’s Shipping Intelligence Weekly are invited to submit their predictions of the value of the ClarkSea Index at the start of November the following year.

This time a year ago, there seemed to be optimism that the improvements filtering through to most shipping markets after the mid-2020 lows would continue. However, few could have predicted the extent of improvements that have developed,” said Clarksons Research analyst Sarah Holden. Back in early November 2020, markets were generally starting to see clear improvements, except for the tanker sector, where earnings had weakened considerably after the highs seen earlier in the year. The LPG market had also joined in with the rises enjoyed by boxships and bulk carriers. These sectors were already up 90% on Covid-driven mid-2020 lows, Holden said.

The ClarkSea Index stood at $12,511 per day on 6 November last year. The survey participants seemed to take a positive view of the one-year outlook. The average guess for the index at the start of November 2021 came in at $16,775 per day, 34% above the level at the start of November last year and 13% above the 2020 average. “As it turned out, this optimism was far from misplaced, with a number of sectors seeing notable improvements through 2021,” Holden added. “Boxships and bulkers led the way; boxship earnings surged to record levels, on the back of a strong trade rebound and severe logistical disruption including port congestion,” she said. The broker’s containership charter rate index is up 326% since January. Firm demand and impacts from congestion also pushed average bulker earnings from $13,000 per day at the start of 2021 to more than $40,000 per day by mid-October, the highest level since 2008. Tankers continued to struggle, however, with oil trades still under significant pressure. Average tanker earnings are on track to reach their lowest level for over 30 years. So far this year, they are averaging only $6,417 per day.

The ClarkSea Index beat $40,000 per day in September and stood at $35,719 per day on 5 November. The highest guess in the Clarksons poll was $28,000 per day for that date, 22% below the actual figure. “In late 2020, just months after the peak negative impacts on the shipping markets from the Covid-19 pandemic last year, few could have imagined that 2021 would see record boxship rates or the highest earnings environment in some sectors since the 2000s boom,” Holden said. And she added: “Predicting where the ClarkSea Index will end up in the first week of November 2022 will be another very tricky challenge.” Impacts from disruption may well take some time to ease, and while the demand outlook appears positive overall, complexities and risks remain, she warned this year’s crystal-ball gazers.