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9 luglio 2020 Il quotidiano on-line per gli operatori e gli utenti del trasporto 20:03 GMT+2






The Liquefied Petroleum Gas shipping market
in 2003

A disappointing market overall despite some promising signs


Significant events 
Situation by ship size: 
   - VLGC
   - LGC
   - Mid-size
    - 8 000/22 000 cbm
    - 8 000 cbm and less
Perceptions
The second-hand market


Significant events

At the start of 2003 conditions in the LPG shipping market were still full of uncertainty and showed little prospect of improving in the months to come. This view however was quickly dispelled soon after the beginning of the year. The market caught a breeze and started moving within all sectors, irrespective of ship’s sizes, while the price of LPG and derivatives was also on the rise. We seemed at last to be leaving the bad times and the year showed signs of a promising and happier climate…

Unfortunately, this wind of hope began to lose strength at soon as February and March saw the disturbing news of the Iraqi invasion. We were back to uncertainty, punctuated by short but strong variations up until the beginning of the summer, before the market was able to settle down and reach a cruising speed at first restrained then slightly more robust at the end of the year.

Certainly the high degree of volatility which came in short spells opened up arbitrage possibilities and inter-continental product movements, but overall within the different categories of ship sizes the year was disappointing and did not afford the recovery which was eagerly awaited by the various market players, of which “some” owners are confined to LPG carriers (excepting LNG which has different criteria).

By “some” we are referring to those specifically involved only in LPG trade and who have and continue to operate their fleet with rock-bottom returns now for a number of years. Others owners who are active in different sectors such as oil or dry bulk have at least had better luck, provided they did not cover all their positions under long term charters: here 2003 seems to have been a bonanza year.

One of the most striking events in the shipping market during the year 2003 is perhaps the clean break between the evolution of the different markets, with the scintillating performance of the oil and dry bulk sectors compared to the continuing lacklustre situation in the petrochemical and more particularly the LPG markets.

These few figures well illustrate the picture:


 
 A monthly variation of $ 20,000 to $ 50,000 with a LPG gas carrier on time charter or equivalent time charter, often leads to a feeling of uncertainty and concern from both sides (long term co-operation, uncertainty as regards losing their position and market share, etc.) whilst in the oil and bulk sector the same variations in amounts are realised but on daily rates! Business as usual!

The unstoppable surge forward in China and the skyrocketing of raw material imports has been a primary reason for the strong rise in rates. But other reasons which are more fundamental can be given to explain the gap that divides movements within the various sectors, some of which are:

  • LPG markets and movements are much more restricted and specialised thus less fluid and volatile than the other sectors of shipping,

  • a greater sensitivity and reaction to the variations in product prices,

  • increased production in closer proximity to consuming areas, such as the proliferation of petrochemical crackers in the Far East and S.E. Asia, etc.

Some other trends can be detected over the last twelve months:

  • Tonnage: a reduction in the number of ships going for scrap, which is the logical consequence of the strong increase in numbers last year when 26 units were demolished. By the end of November 2003 we have registered 18 units with a capacity of near half a million cbm, of which one 29,000 cbm built in 1968 was resold by the demolition yard to an operator in the Middle East, and the recent sale of a 25 years old 75,500 cbm! The strong rise in the scrap price, which went from $ 150/ldt in November 2002 to more than $ 250/ldt in November 2003, is obviously a consideration when contemplating whether to scrap! At the same time 29 newbuildings with a total capacity of 1,076 million cbm came into service during the year.

  • Mergers, de-mergers, and take-overs: on April 7th 2003, Oslo and the shipping world learnt that Bergesen DY was being taken over by World Nordic an affiliate of World-Wide Shipping, which is controlled by the Sohmen family and already strongly present in oil tankers. The same month the team of Stargas and Montanari in the “Medgas Pool” broke up and the pool was restructured without Stargas who were facing financial difficulties. September saw the launching of MNGC (Maersk Norgas Gas Carriers), a new joint-venture between Norgas (IM Skaugen) and Maersk for the commercial management of their ships with a capacity between 5,000 and 12,000 cbm (37 units). This fleet is due to be operated in conjunction with the biggest ships between 15,000 and 20,000 cbm run by Scandigas / AP Moller. Also to be noted was the withdrawal by Tsakos from the joint venture set up in 2002 with Lauritzen Kosan on four 4,400 / 6,300 cbm, all now run by the latter.

  • Prices: the continuation of the upward movement in oil prices and derivatives followed an erratic but continuous trend. Although with less of an impact than China on the oil and bulk sectors, the US also exerted a significant pressure on the LPG and ammonia markets, with the strong surge in imports resulting from the hike in the price of natural gas. This price is now close to $ 7/mmbtu, a level which highly affects the price of propane and ammonia which are extracted from natural gas.

Our annual table with the evolution of prices over the last three years gives the following:


 

Together with the gas price, the freight market was rather disappointing throughout the year 2003, despite the progress seen in the larger size sectors of VLGC (78 / 84,000 cbm), LGC (52 / 59,000 cbm) and Mid-size (24 / 35,000 cbm) during the second half.

Some figures which illustrate this point:


 

It is always important to remember that the average rates exclude all eventual idle time of a ship due to inactive periods between voyages and are neither an indication of an owner’s gross margin on the spot market nor representative of the level of transactions over period business (two years and more).
 


 

Situation by ship size

The average spot rates on the reference voyage Middle East Gulf / Japan for the year was higher than the previous year, despite some much more pronounced variations both higher and lower. Starting from a level of close to $ 30 per ton at the beginning of the year, the market then fluctuated between $ 23-30 per ton before reaching a peak of $ 40 in June.

These rates represent a time charter equivalent fluctuating between $ 550,000 and $ 900,000 per month, and an annual average of nearly $ 600,000 per month, from which figure a number of short and long term time charters were concluded at slightly higher levels.

Naphtha demand again largely contributed to keeping the VLGCs fully employed and nearly a third of the Bergesen fleet is employed on the naphtha market (7 to 10 VLGCs) with an average revenue which is very close to the LPG rates depending on the spot fluctuations of the naphtha market.

The price of scrapping, which was higher and well sustained at $ 250 per ton, attracted four VLGCs, including one 75,000 cbm of 26 years-old which is an unusual occurrence in this respect, whereas eight newbuildings were delivered in 2003. By end November 10 VLGC newbuildings were on order for which deliveries spread out between 2004 and 2007.

Some studies and statistics indicate that there will be an important deficit of VLGCs in the next years given the age profile of this sector and the foreseen growth in LPG production. If current growth were in fact to follow these estimates it is likely that a shortage could occur as from 2005 / 2006, but one must be careful of a possible reversal in the situation should the pace of new orders become too intense.

Despite the current buoyant climate and the important number of multiple orders placed with the main shipyards, some of them are still able to offer newbuildings of VLGCs before 2006!
 

This segment is going through a transitional phase due to the first deliveries of the new orders placed two years ago, but currently still strongly influenced by the age profile of the fleet. Of the 24 units which comprise this category and currently in service, eight are over 25 years-old and sixteen more than 20 years-old, whilst 7 new units are due to be delivered over the next two years.

Such a marked division in ages and ships’ specifications has resulted in a freight differential being paid by the market to ships of the older generation, primarily engaged in the ammonia trade where the terminals are able to avoid the restrictions imposed by the oil Majors, compared to higher rates obtained by more modern ships.

Despite the very small change in demand compared to the previous year and an idle period which is still considerable, the average level of short term time-charter rates (6 to 18 months) rose very slightly, moving up from a monthly rate of $ 500,000 to $ 550,000 at the beginning of the year to $ 600,000 to $ 625,000 in the last quarter of 2003 for the older units, whereas the more modern vessels were able to achieve $ 700,000 to $ 750,000 per month.

Some Majors have become owners in this segment size such as Sonatrach with three carriers to be delivered 2004 / 2005 and Hydro for two 60 000 cbm due 2005 / 2006, but the category remains relatively fragile and has to depend on the scrapping of the oldest units, which in all likelihood should occur imminently.
 

This category of vessel stands out from the other sectors by producing the best results and by their more consistent and regular performance, thanks to a demand which is shared between ammonia for a large part and LPG to a lesser extent.

As is the case for the VLGCs and the LGCs which have been reviewed above and which is dominated by one operator Bergesen, in the Midsize sector Exmar has the majority control.

Although still affected by an important idle time (11% in 2003, slightly below last year’s level), the average revenues have increased over the year thanks to a more sustained demand for longer voyage movements (trans-Atlantic towards the US, cross Europe and East Med towards India for ammonia).

The flexibility in the size of these ships allows them to play between the two main markets of LPG and ammoniac, despite the additional costs of changing grades. The monthly level of 12 to 18 months time-charters for a 35,000 cbm vessel in January was roughly $ 585,000, whereas the current rate is $ 650,000 per month, and spot demand remains firm. That of a 24,000 cbm refrigerated was around $ 550,000 during the last quarter 2003.

As we somewhat suspected last year, this sector has seen an important rush of new orders: five 39,000 cbm shared between Bergesen, APMoller, and Exmar for delivery between 2005 and 2006, and one 39 000 cbm for Bibby, still associated with Exmar in the Midsize pool and which should be delivered early 2005. Still under construction for delivery during 2004, is the 35,000 cbm for Mitsubishi and two Qatari 23,000 cbm.

The current market is not really conducive to new orders, but the various players, already heavily involved in the quality regulations required by the LPG industry and probably also in ammonia in the near future, are doing their best to maintain their positions within their size categories and to respond to the quality improvements being exacted by the majority of oil Majors.
 


 

The recovery in petrochemicals has not allowed this sector to take off. What is even worse is that the results of the chemical industry overall are fairly negative with everyone looking to improve productivity. This shipping category is also affected by the weakness of this industry and has had to fall back and seek out business in other markets such as LPG and ammonia.

The results of the first three quarters were extremely disappointing without any real improvement over the previous year, situated within a bracket of $ 275,000 to $ 325,000 for the smaller sizes and $ 375,000 to $ 475,000 for the larger ones.

Only as from October there was a growth in demand, often supported by an increase in the volume of LPG and ammonia movements (inter North Europe, Middle East Gulf / Asia, trans-Atlantic) indirectly influenced by imports into the US and a sporadic demand from the Asian zone for chemical gas. This area in turn was highly affected by inter Asian movements to the detriment of inter-continental traffic.

A very wide East/West geographical dispersal of ships and an increase in the volume of COAs suddenly generated a rise in demand and consequently freight rates, both on the spot as well as the short and medium term time-charter contracts, with the level of $ 575,000 being broken for the 20,000 cbm sector during the last quarter.

This sector was marked by the concentration move between the fleet of the Scandigas pool operated by AP Moller and that of Norgas, which became official with the creation of the new pool “MNGC” as previously stated.

No new order for refrigerated vessels in this size category has been announced up till now, whereas in 2003 there was the delivery of three 8,500 cbm and two 10,200 cbm ethylene carriers for Norgas by the Chinese shipbuilders Zhonghua, as well as two 9,000 cbm ethylene carriers for Italian account and two 11,000 cbm pressurised taken on long term time-charter by Vitol. Still to be delivered is the ‘Gaschem Baltic’, 8 600 cbm ethylene carrier, for Gaschem.

And China? Are we going to witness the after-affects of the explosion in consumption already under way in this country, brought about by the 150 million Chinese who are already catching up with same level of consumption as among the western world? Without counting the numerous other millions that will follow in the coming years.

The phenomenal rise in strength of this part of the world should have repercussions on LPG demand and derivatives in the East of Suez, even taking into account the volumes and foreseen expansions on the various production sites being established in Asia these past few years.
 


 

Another very disappointing year for owners, more numerous in this sector. The efforts to concentrate operations which were made two years ago (breaking up of the Tarquin fleet, and the merger between Exmar and Lauritzen on the smaller pressurised vessels), has not produced any significant increases and levels have remained “under pressure” during a large part of the year to average out on a monthly time-charter rate between $ 130,000 for the small 3,200 cbm and $ 275,000 for the larger size of 6,000 to 8,000 cbm, and a little bit more for the 8,000 cbm ethylene carriers. 

The petrochemical sector has nonetheless prevented a worsening of idle time and of rates obtained on the LPG market, with the development of some long haul movements from Europe to the US or S.E. Asia for propylene and ethylene. 

This sector has always suffered from an excess capacity of tonnage, but this should begin to rectify itself given the lack of orders for any newbuildings. A situation which is totally logical given the very low return on investment which owners are experiencing in this category. 

Most of the shipyards are in fact fully booked up until the end of 2006 and the other shipping sectors (oil, bulk, and LNG) should continue to keep them busy with new orders. 

This new situation risks to upset the balance between the supply and demand of ships of the refrigerated and semi-pressurised class, at a time when the need for new orders can no longer been satisfied with deliveries in one year and despite the existence of the smaller Japanese shipyards, which have always been specialised in this sector at competitive prices. 

The orderbook is limited to two 3,000 cbm semi-pressurised / refrigerated for Italian account for delivery at the beginning of 2004, two 4,000 cbm also semi-pressurised / refrigerated for Geogas with Japanese shipyards for delivery in 2005, and three other 7,200 cbm pressurised of which two are for Brazil and the other Japan with during delivery in 2004.
 


 

Prospects

As we have seen, the biggest carriers (VLGC down to Midsize) have survived during the course of the year slightly better with marginally higher results as compared to last year, but the other sectors have suffered again with still too long idle times and a decline in demand on certain trades.

In short, another unsatisfactory year for LPG and its derivatives in a feverish condition compared to the healthy excitements seen in the other markets, and in an economic environment which has been badly shaken by the drop in the dollar against the euro.

Nonetheless there are a few indications that could lead to an improvement in the situation:

The order book for newbuildings, especially of ships less than 30,000 cbm, has never been so slim and close to the critical level needed to replace the oldest ships. These latter are being more and more scrutinised by the new safety regulations of the oil Majors, as well as the new political measures being adopted by some countries with regards to the safety and age of ships. The vessels are classified as “LPG tankers” and improperly being subjected to the same conditions as oil tankers. An immediate consequence of this development is that a ship’s depreciation should be calculated on the basis of a shorter life-span. It is not unreasonable to think that the combined effect of a growing number of candidates for scrapping together with a reduced number of new orders will lead to a mini-shortage of tonnage by 2006.

At the same time we have recently seen that some owners who are already involved in other shipping sectors, are beginning to show a disinterest in gas carriers, especially within the smaller sizes. Given the poor returns on investment that they have been experiencing for a long time, some owners are now beginning to question any new investments in gas and preferring to look at other shipping sectors. We have here the possibility of a change in the market structure, together with a likely problem of renewing the fleet in a couple of years, which is perhaps more serious than the often quoted risk of the saturation of shipyards due to an overflow of orders.

The strong surge in American imports linked to the price of natural gas should continue, as long as the different LNG projects do not become operational. The energy “bonanza” on the Asian continent, lead by China, is in full force and new requirements for gas and petrochemicals are to be expected. India, Japan, and China are all likely to see an increase in the import and export of products with other geographical zones.

The most serious forecasts sometimes miss their target due to some small unexpected elements, which nobody had foreseen but which changes the outlook (disease, terrorism, etc.). We only hope however that some of these new trends can develop in a calm and orderly mood so as to allow the market to steer and set sail towards a brighter horizon.
 
  


 


  

LPG carriers second-hand market

  • Carriers over 50,000 cbm

Nine sales were reported this year, of which four for scrapping at a rate between $ 200 and $ 260 per lightweight ton (which represents about $4 to 5 million per ship).

Four other sales concerned ships between 20 and 25 years old and were finalised at prices from $ 3.0 up to $ 8.5 million for the most recent (built in 1982).

Two modern candidates for sale came onto the market at the beginning and at the end of the year, but obtained similar prices. At the start to the year Naftomar bought the ‘Gas Roman’, 78,000 cbm, built in 1990 for around $ 32 million. Later in the year Bergesen purchased the ‘Flanders Gloria’, built in 1991, for $ 33 million. For reference the latter had been acquired by Exmar five years ago for $50 million.

  • Carriers between 20,000 - 50,000 cbm

No transaction for further trading has been reported this year. The episode of the ‘Navigator’ has still not come to an end and the story is still an open book.

  • Carriers between 10,000 - 20,000 cbm

 Three sales for scrapping have been concluded this year. As to sales for further trading, the London owner Zodiac has continued to strengthen his position in this category with the purchase of the ‘Nelly Maersk’, 14,700 cbm, built in 1990, for about $ 15.5 million in June. This vessel will join the five other ships of similar size acquired in 2001 and which remain employed in the ‘Maersk NGC’ pool.

  • Carriers between 3,000 and 10,000 cbm

Small pressurised ships remained at the low levels of last year. Most of the sales have been made between Far Eastern buyers and sellers, with the notable exception of ‘Chemgas Mango’ and ‘Chemgas Durian’, 3,200 cbm, built in 1997, and which were bought for $ 5.2 million each by Dorian Hellas, who continues to built up its position in the small size LPG market, after having purchased last year two ships of similar type and same age at comparable terms.

As to the semi-refrigerated market, only the oldest and cheapest ships were able to find a buyer other than for scrap. We can cite the ‘Galp Faro’, 5,000 cbm, built in 1982, and sold for $ 2.5 million.



Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2003

I N D E X



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