Ship funds as a new asset class: An empirical analysis of the relationship between spot and forward prices in freight markets

Journal of Asset Management | 07/2008


Over the last decade, various new asset classes have emerged as alternatives to the more traditional investments. Although they appear attractive at a first glance, there exists hardly any historical performance track record, and experience with the return generating variables is limited. For ship funds and the valuation of shipping projects, the prevailing freight rates are important price-determining factors. Therefore, knowledge about the time series properties of spot and forward freight rates is essential for a better understanding of the return generating process of ship funds. There are, however, several peculiarities. Because shipping is a nonstorable service, forward prices need not to be linked to spot prices by any direct arbitrage relationship. We test the implications of this notion by using data for Panamax size bulk carriers and find that even in informationally efficient markets spot freight rates are highly autocorrelated. In addition, spot and forward freight rates are cointegrated, and the equilibrium is established by spot rates converging to forward rates. An extension of the standard vector error correction model reveals time-variation in the adjustment speed. Overall, our empirical findings suggest that the time series properties of freight rates need to be well understood before investing in ship funds. Another important aspect is whether ship funds should hedge their freight rate exposure in the forward market to reduce the return volatility or whether investors can achieve the same outcome by holding ship funds in a portfolio context.