Although hardly a surprise, as most market delegates and shipowners were expecting a weak tanker market anyhow, January has proven to be quite the disappointment for tanker owners. Freight rates have fallen at below operating expenses rates, despite the fact that this part of the year should be a positive seasonality factor. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Gibson said that “for quite some time the consensus in the crude tanker market has been that 2018 will be a disappointing year in terms of industry earnings. However, the extreme weakness in spot TCE returns across all tanker categories in January still left many surprised, taking into the account the traditional support lent to the market during the winter season. Spot TCE earnings on the benchmark VLCC trade from the Middle East to Japan (TD3) averaged just under $13,000/day at market speed last month, an unprecedented level for January since the turn of the century. The performance on key trades for other crude tanker segments was even worse. Spot earnings for Suezmaxes trading West Africa to UK Continent (TD20) averaged $6,500/day, while Aframaxes trading across the North Sea (TD7) returned on average $4,500/day over the course of last month, in both cases insufficient to cover fixed operating expenses”.

The shipbroker added that “without doubt, such a poor performance is largely attributable to OPEC-led production cuts, coupled with the rapid growth in the crude tanker fleet. Crude production in the Middle East, the largest load region for VLCCs and an important demand source for Suezmaxes and Aframaxes, is now at similar levels relative to volumes produced in early 2016, while the fleet size is notably bigger. At the start of 2018, the VLCC fleet stood at around 720 units, nearly 80 vessels more than in the beginning of 2016. In addition, back in 2016 a sizable portion of the VLCC fleet was tied up in Iranian and non-Iranian storage. This is no longer the case. VLCC storage of Iranian crude and condensate ceased to exist in November 2017, while storage of non-Iranian crude declined dramatically over the past three months. Overall, over 20 VLCCs were released from floating storage duties between January 2016 and January 2018, with the vast majority of these tankers resuming trading operations”.

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According to Gibson, “the Suezmax and LR2/Aframax supply also witnessed a spectacular growth, with the fleet size up by 50 and over 75 units respectively over the past two years. In addition to the developments in the Middle East, crude trade on the Suezmax key route from West Africa to Europe remains weak, despite recovering Nigerian output. This is primarily due to the rebound in Libyan output, which has reduced the European refiners’ appetite for West African barrels. Furthermore, more crude is also being shipped from the US to Europe. The same factors aid Aframax demand; however, at the same time there has been a decline in Aframax trade from Latin/South America to the US, mainly due to lower flows from Venezuela. Finally, generally favourable weather conditions in January in a number of regional markets meant less weather driven delays and disruptions, one of the key support factors to the market during this time of the year”.

The shipbroker noted that “going forward, there could still be a few weather driven spikes in rates, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. However, the rapid fleet growth w
ill continue, as the anticipated pick up in demolition activity will provide only a limited relief from plenty of new deliveries expected to enter the trading market this year. To reverse the current fortunes, owners need notable increases in trading demand. At the moment, rising crude exports out of the US is the key area for growth but the industry also needs to see strong gains in exports in other parts of the world”.

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Meanwhile, in the crude tanker market this week, Gibson said that it was “another difficult week for VLCC Owners here as Charterers see no reason to fix too far forward as the oversupply of tonnage again dictates. We may start to see Owners become apathetic and withdraw from the field of play until there is a necessity to fix. Currently levels achievable going East are 270,000mt by ws 39 and 280,000mt by ws 18 cape/cape to Western destinations. Suezmax rates have come under further pressure this week and in the earlier part of the week rates to the West bottomed at 140,000mt by ws 25 and after a flurry of activity rates only slightly rebounded up to ws 27.5. The East has seen little activity and levels remain suppressed at 130,000mt by ws 62.5/65. The Aframax outlook in the East remains bleak with rates slipping further this week. AGulf-East runs are now down to 80,000mt by ws85 even after a flurry of activity in the Agulf”, the shipbroker said.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News.