Tanker Market: “Libyan” Factor a Boon for Suezmax and Aframaxes’ Fortunes

The resurgence of Libyan oil production will offer support to Suezmax and Aframax tankers, in terms of demand, but in the short-term, prospects aren’t that rosy. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Charles R. Weber noted that “Libyan crude production posted strong gains during May, rising from 700,000 b/d at the end of April to a three‐year high of 800,000 b/d early during May and subsequently concluding the month at 827,000 b/d, according to the country’s National Oil Company. The gains follow a restart of production at the Sahara oil field late during April after a weeks‐long closure and a restart of the El Feel (Elephant) field during May after having been offline for two years. A technical issue led to a short blip in production at the Sahara field – the country’s largest – during mid‐month likely implies that the average production rate for the month will be lower than the headline figures suggest, but directional improvements and multiple‐year highs imply a positive demand‐side development for Aframax and Suezmax tankers servicing regional cargo flows”, said the shipbroker.

Indeed, CR Weber notes that “a fresh influx of cargoes during late May proved quite supportive of Aframax rates – if only briefly. Aframax TCEs on the MED‐MED route jumped from just $10,700/day at the start of the month to over $25,500/day by May 24th. Contributing to the gains were modest supply gains from Ceyhan, as well as coverage of prompt cargo purchases of North Sea crude grades (during a brief Brent contango futures structure ahead of the OPEC production cut extension) which simultaneously propelled NSEA‐UKC Aframax TCEs to over $30,000/day. Suezmax rates in the same markets rallied in tandem as they have been trading at an effective floor dictated by Afrramaxes, with $/mt rates matching those of the smaller class. Any cheer among owners was short‐lived, however, as Aframax TCEs have largely corrected: presently, the MED‐MED route yields ~$9,776/day and the NSEA‐UKC route yields ~$11,977/day”, it said.

According to CR Weber, “the outlook for the remainder of Q2 and the start of Q3 doesn’t appear particularly rosy, despite potential for Libya to yield a steadier and elevated export flow during the coming months. Natural Aframax demand in the North Sea market is set to decline m/m during June, and the July program shows the fewest loadings of 2017. Meanwhile, Ceyhan loadings are unlikely to observe much further upside following May’s gains. Adding to prospective negative pressure, Suezmaxes appear poised for a wider supply/demand imbalance in the West Africa region, which could elevate vies by Suezmax units for Aframax cargoes. Nigeria’s Forcados crude stream is poised to return following repairs to the pipeline linking fields to the Forcados terminal. Though notionally positive for Suezmaxes (the traditional workhorse of West African exports) the return of Forcados could weaken regional crude differentials to Brent. This would make West African crude more attractive to Asian buyers seeking to offset a lack of supply growth in the Middle East due to extended OPEC production cuts with purchases elsewhere, thereby supporting VLCCs at the expense of Suezmaxes”.

The shipbroker added that “on a YTD y/y basis, VLCC demand in West Africa has grown by 28% while Suezmax demand has shrunk by 25%. Meanwhile, both the Aframax/LR2 and Suezmax fleets are grappling with extraordinarily high net fleet growth rates as a massive newbuilding delivery program is ongoing amid limited phase‐outs of older units. The Aframax/LR2 fleet is has expanded by 2.7% YTD and is projected to conclude the year with a net annual growth rate of 6.9% for 2017 while the Suezmax fleet has expanded by 5.4% YTD and is projected observe a net annual growth rate of 10.0%. Moreover, the majority of this year’s newbuildings have yet to enter the Atlantic basin. Our analysis of AIS and fixture data shows that the average Suezmax newbuilding does not appear in the West Africa market for 95 days after delivery – and of the 26 Suezmax units delivered since 1 Jan, just five have traded cargoes from West Africa so far. To put the volume of recently delivered units that have yet to enter the region into perspective, there are around 10 spot market‐serviced Suezmax loadings and 17 total Suezmax loadings in West Africa, per week”, the shipbroker concluded.

Source: HSN 6.6.2017

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