China’s Offshore Push Shakes Singapore Builders of Oil-Drilling Rigs

August 5, 2013, 8:07 a.m. ET

China’s Offshore Push Shakes Singapore Builders of Oil-Drilling Rigs

Beijing Shifts Resources From Shipbuilding, Seeking 20% of Global Market


Despite booming demand, tiny Singapore faces a tough time ahead defending one of its few heavy industries, building offshore drilling rigs. The reason is familiar: rising Chinese competition. Singapore’s rig makers, Keppel Corp.’s BN4.SG +0.48% Keppel Offshore and Marine unit and SembCorp Marine Ltd., S51.SG 0.00% which both posted lower second-quarter profits, are responding by trying to move upmarket, with equipment that can drill for oil and gas at greater depths and more extreme conditions than the shallow-water rigs they’ve specialized in. But this is a sector where South Korean yards are well-established and China is a growing presence.Asian shipyards, mostly from these three countries, control about 75% of the market for offshore drilling equipment, and until two years back Keppel and SembCorp Marine were the top suppliers of jack-up rigs—platforms built onto the seabed in relatively shallow water. They typically cost about US$200 million. But in 2012 they won only nine new orders for jack-ups between them, while Chinese yards, which include Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Offshore Co., CIMC-Raffles and China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co., won 14. For the first seven months of 2013, China leads, 23-17. Singapore makers still have long order books—but cheaper Chinese rigs means getting new business will be tough.

There is a lot at stake. Marine and offshore engineering accounted for 6.4% of Singapore’s total manufacturing output in last year, bringing in about 19 billion Singapore dollars (US$15 billion), trade ministry data show.

Chinese yards are on track in 2013 to win the largest number of rig orders they’ve had in any single year, helped by a sustained drive to redeploy resources from the glutted shipbuilding sector. Beijing’s five-year economic-development plan, which runs through 2015, calls for developing three coastal hubs for offshore equipment: Bohai Bay, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta.

China’s goals for the five-year period: sales of 200 billion yuan ($32.3 billion) and 20% of the global market for offshore products like rigs and platforms. To achieve this—and to gain technological know-how—Chinese yards are willing to undercut competitors and sacrifice profit, said Vincent Fernando, director of Asean Research at Religare Capital Markets.

Thursday, SembCorp Marine said its second-quarter net profit was down 13% from a year earlier, at 124.9 million Singapore dollars (US$98.2 million). It said it expects strong rig demand but heavy competition, and is betting on state-of-the-art facilities at a new yard due to open this month. Its shares are down 6.7% this year.

Last month Keppel Corp., whose share price has slid 3.9% this year, said its second-quarter net profit was off 33% from a year earlier, at S$346.8 million (US$273.7 million). At the time it said mounting Korean and Chinese competition continues to suppress prices and margins, though it also noted a healthy order book: S$13.1 billion as of June.

Demand for higher-end rigs is being driven by sustained high oil prices, which support development of reserves that are costlier to extract, and enhanced safety needs since BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010, said Keppel Chief Operating Officer Chow Yew Yuen. Keppel will continue to improve in areas where it has good leverage to compete, he said in an email, citing three: technological prowess, its ability to meet delivery schedules and its ability to provide customized rigs.

Last month, Keppel announced a new drillship design it plans to introduce in 2014. Drillships, used in water up to three kilometers deep, cost four times as much as jack-ups. Whether Singapore and China can compete with South Korean yards in this specialized area is still to be seen.

At the cutting edge offshore are floating gas-processing plants, which collect gas piped from reservoirs under the sea bed, chill it to liquid form and then load it into pressurized ships for transport. South Korea’s Samsung Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. is building a behemoth for Royal Dutch Shell that analysts estimate will cost $10 billion to $12 billion. Still several years from delivery—it’s to be anchored hundreds of miles off Northwestern Australia—it will measure 500 meters long and displace 600,000 tons. Think six aircraft carriers.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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