Clarksons is maintaining a positive outlook on shipping markets, despite demand challenges in the months ahead which will need to be tracked closely.

IMO 2020 and longhaul trades are giving a "boost" to demand, the research arm of the London-based shipbroker said in its autumn 2019 market outlook report.

Clarkson's benchmark ClarkSea earnings index has risen 12% from a year ago, with the tanker sector showing a 75% gain year-to-date.

"Our projections, recent Middle East disruption aside, suggest underlying improvements over the next twelve months, with IMO 2020 and long haul trades providing a boost to demand," Clarkson Research managing director Stephen Gordon said.

"Struggles of the first half have been replaced by a much stronger Q3 for bulkers, although some shorter term factors, including iron ore supply reactivation and scrubber retrofit, may be at play."

He said containership charter rates have increased 13% since start year, led by the larger sizes but “non-headline” fundamentals will be needed for these trends to continue.

"The ro-ro market has eased back but cruise investment continues. Offshore has seen activity, utilisation and rates edge upwards but progress has varied and challenges remain.”

The report further says that projections for seaborne trade growth in 2019 have been downgraded to 1.7% in tonnes and 2.2% in tonne-miles (from 2.9% and 3.4% at start 2019).

In tonnes terms, this would be the slowest growth environment since 2009, impacted by weakening economic conditions and issues such as the “trade war” and Vale dam collapse, the report says.

"For now, our 2020 projections are more positive but need to be monitored," it says.

Dry bulk trade is projected to grow by a sluggish 1.3% in 2019, oil trade by 0.8% (2.9% in tonne-miles), and container trade by 2.5%. Trends in gas trade remain positive (LNG at 8%, LPG at 5%).

"Our view that shipping supply is manageable' still holds, with fleet growth projected at 3.3% in 2019, just 2.0% in 2020 and the 'orderbook sitting at only 9% of the fleet," the report says.

"Overall, shipping markets seem to be continuing to trend forwards, despite demand pressures. Limited supply growth and IMO 2020 ‘wildcards’ appear to already be having a positive impact, and may provide further support next year.

"However, with global economic concerns building, risk of further downgrades to demand need to be tracked closely."

The full report will be available on Shipping Intelligence Network in early October.