Young professionals say London shipping must be adaptable and competitive
A new survey by The Shipping Professional Network in London (SPNL) has found that London must adapt to a fast-changing environment and improve its competitive edge in order to remain a relevant global maritime centre.
Respondents to the survey also identified access to the single market and freedom of movement as key negotiating issues for shipping in the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The survey, organised in conjunction with international accountant and shipping adviser Moore Stephens, canvassed the opinions of young professionals working primarily in the shipowning, shipbroking, shipmanagement, chartering, banking and ship finance, advisory and associated industries in London. Respondents were asked for their views of the current state of the market, and how they believed it would perform over the next 12 months. They were also asked to identify the key challenges facing London as a maritime centre, and which aspects of the Brexit negotiations they considered to be most important for the preservation and continued development of London as a centre of global maritime commerce.
Respondents recorded an overall confidence level of 6.1, out of a maximum possible score of 10.0, in the markets in which they operate. This compares with the rating of 6.2 recorded when the survey was run previously, in September 2015.
On a scale of 1 to 10, respondents expressed an overall expectation of 5.8 when asked to gauge the likelihood of their business making a major investment or significant development over the next 12 months. This was unchanged from two years ago.
Competition, demand trends, and the cost and availability of finance were identified by respondents as the three leading factors most likely to affect their business performance over the next 12 months. 55% of respondents expected finance costs to increase over the coming year, compared to the 48% who thought likewise in 2015.
Respondents were also asked for their opinion of likely rate movements in the tanker, dry bulk, container ship and offshore markets over the course of the next year. 31% overall thought that tanker rates were likely to increase, as against 35% in the 2015 survey. In the dry bulk sector, 60% of respondents expected rates to increase, compared to the 35% recorded in 2015. Meanwhile, 42% of respondents expected rates to rise during the next 12 months in the container ship market, compared to 29% in 2015, and 31% expected rates to rise in the offshore maritime market.
Respondents were provided with a list of key challenges facing London in order for it to remain a relevant global maritime centre, and asked to choose the three options which they considered to be most important, in order of priority. ‘Competitiveness’ (unchanged from the previous SPNL survey in 2015) and ‘Ability to adapt to a fast-changing environment’ (up from 17% on the 2015 figure) were each identified by 23% of respondents. ‘Taxation’ (unchanged at 18 %) was in third place.
The number of respondents who identified education as a key challenge was down from 11% to 9%, the same number who expressed concern about the likelihood of there being insufficient numbers of professionals and shipowners operating in London.
On the specific question of Brexit, 21% of respondents identified access to the single market as the most important issue in negotiations for the UK’s exit from the EU. Freedom of movement (18%) featured in second place, followed by taxation / VAT / customs duties (15%) and regulatory issues (10%). Other factors cited by respondents included the legal framework (9%), passporting rights (8%), political sanctions and competition law (both 7%) and dispute resolution (6%).
Claudio Chistè, Chairman of SPNL, says: “The past two years have seen a continuation of the extremely difficult conditions which have plagued global economies since the beginning of the financial downturn in 2008. So it is not surprising that the level of confidence expressed by young shipping professionals working in the London market has declined, albeit very slightly, over the past two years.
“At a time of great uncertainty and change in many parts of the world, every major decision in shipping has to be weighed in the political and environmental scales, as well as the economic ones. And every decision should be made in the knowledge that, in many trades, there are too many ships operating at below-break-even rates, with the inevitable result that not everybody engaged in those trades is going to make money.
“Other, more recent issues may seem less pressing by comparison, but they are assuming increasing importance. Cyber-crime, for example, was barely considered as a significant threat to the industry two years ago. Now it is very near the top of the list in the minds of many. The next two years will also be highly instructive when it comes to footing the bill for compliance with the Ballast Water Management Convention.
“With these new problems, it is just as well that the new generation of shipping professionals continues to expand, bringing with it an approach which is fresh yet still informed by the older generation of professionals which has seen the shipping industry through many years of cyclical promise and disappointment. It is encouraging that talented young professionals are still attracted to the industry. This is just as it should be because, despite the problems, the net sentiment gleaned from our survey in terms of the prospects for rate improvements over the next 12 months is positive in the three main tonnage categories. Moreover, respondents to our survey rated the prospect of their business making a major investment over the next 12 months at 5.8 out of a possible 10.0.
“Today’s shipping professionals have to deal with Brexit and the massive potential implications for their future. SPNL members were divided in their views about whether Brexit would be good or bad for London as a maritime centre. Similarly, there was a divergence of opinion as to how best London can confront the issues it faces in terms of competition from other global shipping centres.
“It is not only about cost. It is also about service, flexibility, experience and tradition. London needs its cadre of young maritime professionals, and over time those young professionals will become the older generation of London-based expertise and experience. The next generation of professionals in London needs to rise to the new challenges as previous generations have done over the centuries.”