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The transport of refined oil products in 2003

 

The freight market
     Handysize
     Medium Range
     Long Range  
Tonnage supply 
Second-hand market

see also The crude oil transport

With regard to the product tanker market in 2003, taken as a whole the year has been good. Supported by a tightening of international regulations and by a healthy demand from Far Eastern countries and then by the US, the market managed to absorb the delivery of numerous new units. 

The average rates and daily returns for all sizes were well above a third higher than in 2002. 

From January to April rates were rising, prolonging the trend of the last quarter of 2002. A sharp drop in rates, starting in mid-April, carried on through till the end of September, but the low levels reached in mid-June were above those prevalent in 2002. The anticipated recovery in autumn was realised and especially for fuel oil liftings, rates flirted with record levels from the beginning of December. 

The only sour note was the growing discrepancy between rates being achieved for period charters and the daily returns on the spot market. This phenomenon is due to a certain mistrust of owners which they consider as being more volatile in the short term than sustained in the long term. This question could well be answered in 2004 by the way in which some 130 ships between 25,000 and 50,000 tons, totalling 5.5 million dwt, coming onto the market will be absorbed.
 

The evolution of product tanker freight rates in 2003

 

The ‘handysize’ (handy product) from 25,000 to 39,999 dwt

Owners of this size of vessels benefited from the cold winter of 2002/2003. Demand for ships capable of operating within the ice zones (liftings out of the Baltic Sea and the White Sea) was very high and in addition nearly half of the existing fleet was being employed on inter-European movements of fuel oil or crude oil. 

Up until the end of April, daily returns were obtaining well above $20,000 per day. In the second and third quarters rates dropped, due to the weakness in American and European demand, but also with the arrival on the market of some 40 new units, without however falling below the $10,000 per day level. With the coming of winter months, thanks to the effect of a strong demand for fuel oil and crude oil the market picked up and allowed for annual returns to get above $18,500 per day. 

Strangely the period charter market has been dragging its feet due to the mistrust on the part of most charterers to enter into long term commitments and little interest on the part of owners for short term periods.
 


 

The ‘medium range’ (MR product) form 40,000 to 49,999 dwt

Ships operating within the Atlantic zone by and large experienced the same evolution in demand as the smaller size ships. However they remained more susceptible to the fluctuations in American demand and their daily returns fell below those registered by the ‘handysize’ during the summer before shooting up quickly with the advent of winter. 

Ships operating East of Suez benefited from the good performance of the Far Eastern zone, led by the Chinese growth and the economic recovery in Japan. The arrival of some 50 new units, largely used within this zone, scarcely affected the market until the end of August. The trend was slightly reversed at the beginning of September especially as local fuel oil movements were being undertaken by single-hulled vessels. The announcement by India of the banning of ships over 20 years old led one to believe that the second half of the year would experience a sharp rise in rates. But up till now this has not been the case, although it may be simply a question of time as India has announced the introduction of a new law coming into effect in April 2004. 

Average daily returns achieved around $20,000 per day nearly 25 % above rates registered for 2 - 3 years periods. 

Period fixtures have been relatively numerous, either for short term periods during the first quarter, or on the contrary with new deliveries for periods of 3 - 5 years. Rates have rarely surpassed $14,500 per day under the pressure of the number of ships coming onto the market over the next two years.
 

The ‘long range’ (LR product) from 50,000 to 90,000 dwt

Movements of light products out of the Persian Gulf to the Far East were little affected by the American intervention in Iraq. The ‘LR’ market thus remained very firm, up until the end of May, helped by consecutive imports linked to the technical problems of Japanese nuclear power plants. Nonetheless by mid-December, the rates and daily returns were below the levels of the previous year.
 

Supply of tonnage
 

Despite numerous deliveries, the market remains very volatile. 

As to tonnage on offer, it is important to note that the Major’s restrictive chartering policies have considerably reduced the “eligible” fleet.  
 


 

At the time of the ‘Erika’ incident, the fleet capable of transporting products from 25,000 - 50,000 dwt was over 950 units with a capacity of around 35 million dwt. If one assumes that the market was more or less in balance at this time, based on current construction one will have to wait until 2007 to reach an equivalent fleet in terms of numbers and transport capacity. It is therefore hardly surprising that the market has been able to absorb a hundred ships being delivered without any real difficulty. 

At the end of the year, the fleet of product tankers comprised: 

  • about 290 ‘handysize’ vessels with a total capacity of 9.7 million tons.

  • about 440 ‘MR’ vessels with a total capacity of 19.2 million tons. 

The average age of these vessels was respectively 11.5 years for the ‘handysize’ and 9.5 years for the ‘MR’, the result of the rapid rejuvenation of the fleet especially on sizes above 40,000 tons. 

As to vessels in the larger category, 31 ‘LR’ ships have been delivered since 2000 for a total capacity of over 2.15 million dwt, of which 12 are over 80,000 dwt. More than 160 ships of over 50,000 dwt were on order at the end of the year for a total capacity of 12 million tons.

The small number of ships being demolished is a worry. In such a healthy market, owners of old vessels not acceptable to Majors still continue to find gainful employment with certain traders and charterers in the East of Suez area. This state of affairs not only slows down the modernisation of the fleet, but introduces a distorted competition to the detriment of owners who have made an effort and impose a strict selection of their tonnage and yards with which they work. 

It is time that all the charterers in the Far East follow the example of the EU and put into application the guide lines of the IMO. 

Demand for product tankers has been influenced principally by two factors: the American and Asian demand on one hand, and the utilisation of nearly half of the fleet of modern ships in the transport of fuel oil and crude oil on the other hand. 

American demand was a particularly influential factor in the liveliness of the transatlantic market, due to the shutdown of crude production and refining capacity in Venezuela which lasted until the end of April and affected American imports up till the last quarter. American imports therefore had to look to other sources, which were either European or Asian refiners. 

At the same time, Chinese demand lead by a growth of 7- 8% p.a. but also Japanese imports linked to a healthy economic recovery, help support the market throughout the first half. 

It seems likely that this is a well established trend; crude production within the American zone is no longer rising and refining capacity in the area has reached a plateau. Without new installations, made difficult by environmental considerations, revamping or upgrading of existing plants is not sufficient in itself and the zone will become increasingly dependent on product imports. Meanwhile, despite financial uncertainties, the economy within the Asian zone should grow strongly over the next 5 years. 

Extending product voyage movements together with the tightening of security measures cannot but help favour the employment of modern product carriers.  

In conclusion, although it is inevitable that the large number of vessels due to be delivered over the next 2 to 3 years will have an affect on the product tanker market, the combination of tighter and more restrictive measures together with an improvement in the world economic climate should allow the market to absorb this new capacity. 

In the longer term, there is a concern that owners may be tempted to take speculative risks: the cash-flow being generate by tax friendly systems (with as a prime example the German KGs) allows investors to take up-front profits by refinancing their delivered units and to fund and place new orders. 

In counterbalance, the rise in prices for newbuildings and the full capacity of shipyards act as a constraint on the excessive appetite of owners.  

Overall, even if the perception of the supply/demand tonnage balance is less clear in the long term, the market should remain in good shape at least until 2005 and possibly 2006. And if it transpires that the “useful life” of a product tanker should be reduced from 22 / 25 years to 15 / 18 years, owners could then anticipate a supportive and favourable market until 2010!

 

The product tankers second-hand market in 2003

The chartering market of Handysize and Medium Range product carriers was very healthy in 2003, with average levels and daily rates considerably higher than in 2002, despite the large number of new ships being delivered. Rates climbed from January to April, then fell sharply until the end of September before rising again in the autumn. 

For second-hand ships, a premium was placed on modern units given the new restrictive regulations, the application of a stricter freighting policy by the Majors and the price of newbuildings going considerably higher with later delivery dates. 

At the same time there were two salient features seen in 2003, on one hand the large number of resales of newbuilding contracts and on the other hand the strong presence of the German KGs who bought over the year a good ten modern ships which have been placed on time charter for periods of 5 to 7 years.  

At the beginning of the year we saw the acquisition by Stelmar for $ 177 million en bloc of 6 ships of 47,000 dwt from Target Marine still under construction with STX. At the same time, we also observed the resale of 6 units of Geden Line, 37,000 dwt under construction with Hyundai Mipo (of which 4 ships for delivery between May and October 2003) for a price situated around $ 28.7 - 29.0 million each, with 2 going to Italian buyers and 2 to German buyers. 

In April Metrostar bought 2 product carriers of 37,000 dwt under construction with Hyundai Mipo for delivery in 2003 at a reported price of $ 30 million each. 

In September Italian owners acquired a 47,000 dwt ship under construction with Hyundai Mipo for delivery in 2004 for a price slightly below $ 31 million. 

Finally in December Greek buyers took possession of a 46,000 dwt unit to be delivered in 2004 for around $ 33 million. 

In these circumstances, it is not surprising to see that a standard 45,000 dwt double-hull ship built in 1998 and which was worth about $ 23 million in December 2002 is worth around $ 28 million by the end of 2003, whilst a single-hulled product tanker of 40,000 dwt built at the end of the 80’s, which had a value of about $ 12.3 million at the end of December 2002, finished the year at about $ 11.5 million after having fallen to around $ 10.5 million during the summer slump. 

The improvement in the world economic picture and regulations which are for ever becoming more restrictive in this sector should help the market to absorb the numerous ships which are still for delivery, but some fluctuations should not be excluded in the event of a temporary imbalance between supply and demand of tonnage.  
 



Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2003

I N D E X



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