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Protectionist Trump the next US President - view on shipping impact from New York

Protectionist Trump the next US President - view on shipping impact from New York

In a stunning upset, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the just finished US elections. The new administration will take office in January 2017, Seatrade Maritime News New York correspondent Barry Parker gives his take on the impact on shipping.

Trump’s run for the top job was remarkably short on specifics of what he might do if elected, so analysts can only conjecture about impacts on the maritime sector. 

Political analysts and media pundits, mostly predicting an easy win for Clinton, were proven wrong as a populist current, evoking the “Silent Majority” of the late 1960’s, flowed throughout the middle of the country.

Trump is regarded as protectionist; his administration - supported by Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate - will try to roll back existing trade deals which, he argued, had the impact of exporting jobs abroad. The “re-shoring” movement will gain new currency under a Trump regime. Incrementally, such moves might have the effect of shifting, if not necessarily reducing, trade flows.

However, speaking at the Marine Money Forum in New York, the day after the election, noted investor Wilbur Ross, best known for his Diamond S tanker outfit, an advisor to the President-elect, stressed that economic gains in the US could lead to a trade stimulating environment. Ross added that Trump's energy-friendly views may stimulate addition licensing, and eventual export of LNG- plentiful in the US.

The “dangers”, if any, would lie in the reactions of other countries; pro-Clinton supporters had warned that a trade war might be triggered. The impacts, if the dire predictions come to pass - and the word “if” should be stressed - might extend beyond liner shipping; in recent years; the US had seen a resurgence of agricultural exports. However, on the world scene, cargoes may come from other origins, with impacts on ton-miles not readily possible to forecast.

Trump will likely be a supporter of the US domestic energy markets, which would benefit fossil fuels producers, including the miners of steam coal. Again, impacts on shipping will depend on shifts occurring in a global matrix of origins and destinations.

At a high level, more US oil production could auger for an incremental widening of the Brent- WTI spreads, and the resultant impacts on arbitrages for refined products. However, pricing is determined on world markets, and take into account the actions of buyers and sellers worldwide.

One perennial question for shipping observers is the impact on “The Jones Act”, the U.S. version of cabotage, which restricts coastal trades to US owned/ built/ and crewed vessels. The shipyard and related businesses have been powerful politically. Organised labour interests generally backed Clinton, and it is unclear how the shipbuilding industry might be treated by a Trump administration.

There are also considerable uncertainties about how a Trump policy apparatus would regard the “national security” aspects of shipping, including programs from the Bill Clinton years that allow US flagged (but not necessarily US built) liner vessels in foreign trades to gain annual subsidies. Likewise, a US tanker fleet in coastal trades, an important visage of the Jones Act, may be regarded as a bulwark for U.S. national security by a Trump administration- we don’t know yet.

One barometer to watch will be the upcoming split of the large tanker owner OSG into an international and domestic components; the Jones Act entity, to keep the OSG name, will be listed as will the “International Seaways” foreign flag unit, and its performance will provide an insight into investor views on the likely prospects for the Jones Act.

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