World's biggest supertanker is seeing "huge" rebound in Chinese oil demand

Posted by Ian Cooper - Friday, November 12th, 2010


"Frontline Ltd., the world’s biggest supertanker operator, said it’s seeing “huge” demand for crude-oil imports from China, potentially reversing a slump that contributed to mostly unprofitable charter rates since June.

China, the world’s biggest energy user, cut net oil imports to the lowest level in 18 months last month, according to customs data released Nov. 10. Chinese oil companies made 44 percent more tanker bookings in October, for deliveries this month, data from Clarkson Research Services Ltd. show.

There is “huge import demand from China,” Jens Martin Jensen, Singapore-based chief executive officer of Frontline’s management unit, said today. Imports may be increasing because of winter demand and efforts to expand stockpiles, he said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Spot rates for supertankers, each bigger than the Chrysler Building, slumped 54 percent this year as the supply of new vessels increased faster than demand for oil. Owners responded by cutting ship speeds and anchoring vessels to constrict supply and Jensen in July said the Hamilton, Bermuda-based company was turning down business rather than operate at unprofitable rates.

Futures markets are already anticipating a rebound. Forward freight agreements for December, traded by brokers and used to speculate or hedge, jumped 14 percent to the equivalent of $27,089 a day yesterday, according to data from Imarex ASA. While that’s 46 percent more than the current spot rate of $18,601, it’s still 12 percent below the $30,900 Frontline says it needs to break even.

Chinese Refineries

Chinese oil refineries processed a record 8.8 million barrels a day last month, according to China Mainland Marketing Research Co., which compiles data for the National Bureau of Statistics. The nation will account for more than a third of global oil demand growth next year, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

“Refineries are expected to ramp up capacity further for the two remaining months” of the year, Martin Sommerseth Jaer and Erik Nikolai Stavseth, Oslo-based analysts at Arctic Securities ASA, said in a report today. “This should increase crude flows to China.”

The global oil-tanker fleet will expand by 86.5 million deadweight tons in the next two years, equal to about 27 percent of existing capacity, Morgan Stanley said in a report Oct. 14. The extra ships would exceed the previous record of 79.8 million deadweight tons set in 1974 and 1975, according to Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker. Shipowners ordered the vessels before rates plunged from $177,036 in July 2008.

Shipping lines responded to the slump in rental rates by cutting average supertanker speeds by about 9 percent since March, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. An average of 124 supertankers were anchored last month, compared with 98 in December, the data show."


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