Greater China

Galloping into the New Year

Hong Kong: Lunar New Year has a host of traditions that are an integral part of the celebrations. SinoShip columnist Bei Hong looks at how some might apply to shipping. 

We are now through that ‘twilight zone’ between “Western” New Year and Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year or Spring Festival or how ever you care to term it). It’s always a difficult period for businesses who are focused on China, and none more so than shipping. It’s a period where you try to interpret what the year ahead holds, but get sidelined by conflicting information about stock piles, pre-holiday inventory run downs, factories closing early for the holidays and all manner of delays caused by the weather. Now that all the festivals are behind us, we can focus on the daily grind again.

I have never been a big fan of Western New Year celebrations. The sense of expectation that this is going to be ‘the best party ever’  never seems to be realized and trying to get a taxi home in the freezing cold along with thousands of others, many of whom have overindulged a little, is not really my idea of a good start to the year. Much more palatable is the family orientated Chinese equivalent, with many customs and rituals which perhaps the shipping industry could learn a thing or two from, or perhaps they already are. 

First amongst the traditions for Chinese New Year is to give your home a good spring clean. Recent new regulations suggest that the Chinese domestic shipping industry will be embarking on a phasing out of older tonnage whilst some of the major Chinese owners seem to already be following tradition and have earmarked some of their old ladies for scrap. With the outlook for the Year of the Horse looking better than the preceding Year of the Snake, many other owners might be tempted to give ageing tonnage another quick lap round the block, so perhaps a more strict adherence to this custom could give us all a better chance of prosperity in this equine year.

In advance of the celebrations, it is also traditional to pay off your debts. Improved markets mean that we haven’t got charterers pleading poverty to the same extent as the last few years, but no doubt there are quite a few European bankers who will be hoping their clients follow this particular tradition.

With new clothes traditionally being worn on the first day of the New Year, the run up to the celebrations sees a veritable shopping frenzy, particularly for shoes. We seem to be seeing the shopping tradition being followed in the newbuilding market to an alarming degree, with that old favourite, the VLCC, making a particularly dramatic comeback to the orderbook in the last few months of the old year. All these new ships might not be coming out during the Year of the Horse but does this rush to the shops mean the Year of the Monkey and Rooster in 2016 and 2017 will be grim? Only time will tell, but perhaps if shipowners follow another tradition of not buying new clothes for a month after Lunar New Year, we might be spared the worst.

Whether you are consulting an astrologer or one of the numerous research reports which drops on your desk every day, trying to make sense of the year ahead has never been more difficult. The optimists seem to be convinced that this year will be better than the last, and based on how awful shipping markets were for the first nine months of 2013, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Others point to the wild volatility we have already experienced in the first month of this calendar year as evidence that the horse is going to give us all a wild ride. How ever it turns out, may be it be a happy and healthy year for you all.


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