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Will a Glut Sink Shipping Stocks in 2010?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Anyone who follows the merchant-shipping industry knows that a coming onslaught of newly built vessels threatens to create a vicious oversupply in 2010.

The extent to which this burgeoning glut will, in turn, cause shipping rates to flop depends entirely on how many of the vessels on order get delayed or canceled. (Another relevant question: Will demand for raw materials globally -- and in China especially -- increase enough next year to soak up any excess supply?)

Every dry-bulk outfit in the world, no matter the size or the vessel-class it specializes in, has a stake in the outcome, from DryShips (DRYS) (market cap: $1.5 billion) to Top Ships (TOPS) (market cap: $32 million).

In the dry-bulk segment of the shipping industry in 2009, 35% of the vessels scheduled for delivery never saw the water. If owners annul a similar number of newbuildings in 2010, analysts and executives say, the industry may well avoid the worst-case-scenario.

But within the dry-bulk community, opinion is divided on just how much of the total industrywide orderbook will see cancellation. The projections run from a bearish 20% -- courtesy of FBR Capital Markets' shipping analyst, Robert MacKenzie -- to a bullish 45% -- see John Wobensmith, the finance chief at New York-based Genco Shipping & Trading (GNK), one of the rare companies with no ship deliveries scheduled for next year.

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