Ratings agency Fitch Ratings has maintained its neutral outlook for shipping in 2022 despite strong bulker and container ship markets, and the prospect of a recovery for tankers. The company has concerns over a “collapse” in demand due to the latest Covid-19 variant, Omicron, as well as a potentially slower than forecast global economic recovery. Fitch was positive on bulk carriers but said there was also some risk of falling boxship rates. The tanker sector could improve after a weak 2021, the agency believes.

“A continued global economic recovery is important for all shipping segments to maintain their favorable supply-demand balances into 2022,” Fitch said. One positive from the pandemic is supply chain issues such as congestion supporting rates, particularly for container ships, the agency added. “A potential increase in trade protectionism during the recovery could limit demand in some segments,” Fitch warned.

Developments in IMO or EU emissions regulations could affect the medium-term outlook for cost structures or the earnings capacity of some shipping segments,” the agency added. The company is expecting a similar financial performance from shipowners in 2022, compared to the current year. Fitch said freight rates will be “fairly supportive”, which should underpin companies’ financial metrics.

In November, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report for 2021 set out major ongoing impacts likely to be felt from twin challenges. Growth in maritime trade is set to slow significantly again over the next four years from knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the economic recovery further blunted by high freight rates, the trade body forecast.

The pandemic’s impact on maritime trade volumes was less severe than initially expected in 2020 but its knock-on effects will be far-reaching and could transform seaborne transport, predicted UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2021. Recovery across the global economy is threatened by high freight rates forecast to continue until 2023, UNCTAD added.