The tanker market’s prospects look brighter by the day. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal said that “the crude tanker market continues to gather momentum as we head towards the end of 1Q2023, against a backdrop of strong U.S. exports paired with a steady recovery of Chinese demand for crude”.
According to Ms. Georgousi, Research Analyst, “U.S. crude exports are set to climb to 140.4 million barrels in March, versus 108.2 million barrels in February, amid a surge in domestic crude inventories, which currently hover close to 480,063 million barrels, almost 30,000 million barrels above the 5-year average and by 66.2 million barrels up from December 2022. More specifically, the surge occurred despite an increase in refinery rates after a strong maintenance season, while it was primarily driven by an increase in Gulf Coast crude inventories, which climbed to their highest since April 2021. China and Europe have been reportedly the biggest importers of U.S crude in March. As Europe and Asia look for supplies, U.S. crude oil exports, which have been bolstered by a change in trade flows following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will continue to rise this year providing support to the tanker market”.
“Europe’s demand for U.S. crude is forecast to remain elevated in the coming weeks, as we head toward the peak summer season for crude buying. Moving forward, we should expect to see a boost in the USG to Europe (TD25) Aframax freight rates, which eased earlier this month due to the increased vessel supply in the U.S. Gulf. In addition, following January’s record of 385,133 barrels per day (bpd) of US crude exports to Europe shipped on VLCCs, we should expect to see some support in VLCC freights, as medium and heavy sour grades from the U.S. to Europe are increasingly being booked on larger sizes, a trend established back in 2022”, Ms. Georgousi said.
“In the meantime, market sentiment firmed following the release of OPEC+’s report last week, which raised the forecast of Chinese oil demand to 710,000 barrels per day (bpd), amid expectations of surging jet fuel and diesel consumption. China’s crude imports remain robust and above the 40 million MT mark for eight consecutive months since August 2022. In March, China’s crude oil imports are assessed at 47.27 million MT, a 4.4% m-o-m increase. Imports from the U.S. are set to hit a 2.5-year high, pivoted by a recovery in demand and competitive prices compared to Middle Eastern supplies. Crude imports from the U.S. are forecast to remain elevated in 2Q and 3Q, amid a widening WTI/Dubai, which last week widened to 10$ per barrel, the widest since August 2022. In the coming weeks, we could see continued Chinese purchases of crude because of rising domestic demand and amid a drop in domestic inventories following increased refining demand. VLCC fundamentals are unquestionably the most positive, driving rates up, as they were the first to stabilize as a result of recovering Chinese demand. Robust U.S. exports to China have been particularly beneficial for VLCC vessels. VLCC freight rates hover well above their 2022 average, while ton-miles remain elevated, underpinned by strong demand in the USG to China (TD22) route”, Intermodal’s analyst concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide