Tanker rates have taken a turn for the worse, as a result of dwindling demand and fewer cargoes available, as a result of increased tonnage supply, following the lifting of the US sanctions on Cosco’s tankers. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal said that “the positive feeling and optimism for a fresh rally during the first few months of 2020 that prevailed in the tanker markets during the final quarter of 2019 is now looking ever more likely to never materialize. The drop noted in Chinese oil demand as part of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, as well as several other factors, have all played a part in negatively affecting the market so far.
According to Mr. Yiannis Vamvakas, Research Analyst with Intermodal, “freight rates are clearly portraying this status quo, as the BDTI has fallen from the beginning of the year by almost 46%, while the average earnings for VLCC, Suezmax and Aframax units have plummeted by around 85%, 68% and 64% respectively. With major areas of China being under quarantine, the whole economy has slowed down significantly, affecting among others the demand for crude oil imports. It is estimated that demand has fallen by around 20% so far. The impact has been equally dramatic for the global oil industry, taking under consideration that today China is the biggest oil importer in the world, normally importing more than 10m bpd. This reduction of oil imports has also been reflected in port calls into China, with estimates showing a fall of approximately 20% to 30% noted in February”.
Intermodal’s analyst added that “at the same time, refineries in China, as well as other countries, are slowing down operations in order to adapt to this curb in demand. According to the International Energy Agency, the situation will severely affect the market, with forecasts showing that the world’s demand for crude oil will decline in the first quarter of the year (first time in ten years). The biggest exposure to this decline in demand is to be faced by Saudi Arabia, who is China’s largest supplier. However, this will not be limited there, as the recent “phase one” deal signed between the US and China stating that the latter would purchase from the US an additional $18.5 billion of energy products this year and $34 billion next year is now looking to be ever more an unrealistic target to reach”.
Meanwhile, “China may be the most significant headache for investors right now, but this is not the only factor that is dragging down tanker markets. Worries have shifted over to the supply side of the industry as well lately, after the decision by the US administration to lift sanctions off the Cosco Shipping Tanker (Dalian) Co. fleet. As a result, more vessels are now actively trading, during a period were fixing activity is already anemic. Things are however looking to be more positive on the side of oil production, with talks in Libya continuing and with the potential of a deal being reached, leaving for an additional 1 million bpd of crude oil to be introduced back into the market. Meanwhile, the oil rig count in the US, a factor reflecting the production of oil in the country has risen for a 3rd straight week, reaching a total count to 679. As a result, US shale production is expected to reach a record 9.2 million bpd next month. Adding to this, it is now rumored that both OPEC and Russia will not follow through with any further cuts in oil production right now. Closing on a positive tone, data from China is showing that new coronavirus cases in the country are starting to slow down, with some experts expecting a further decline in the spread growth of the virus taking place by end of March. This means that during the second quarter of the year, we may see a robust correction in the freight market, as importers in China will require to cover the “lost” period of production, leading to a significant temporary ramp up in demand for crude oil and thus for oil tankers”, Vamvakas concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide