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Tanker owner expects “challenging months ahead” for the market

The tanker market is expected to keep facing headwinds, at least for the next few months. In a market analysis by ship owner Teekay Tankers this week, it was noted that “crude tanker spot rates declined during the fourth quarter of 2020, due to a combination of lower oil demand as a result of COVID-19, persistent OPEC+ supply cuts, and the return of ships to the spot trading fleet from floating storage”.

“Renewed lockdowns in many parts of the world due to a second wave of COVID-19 and the emergence of new, more transmissible variants of the virus led to lower oil demand during the fourth quarter of 2020 than was previously expected. In the International Energy Agency (IEA) October 2020 Oil Market Report, global oil demand was projected to be 96.1 million barrels per day (mb/d) for the fourth quarter of 2020. However, in its January 2021 report, this figure was revised down to 94.5 mb/d. On the oil supply side, the OPEC+ group of producers has shown strong discipline in sticking to planned supply cuts in order to rebalance the oil market, with global oil supply in the fourth quarter of 2020 averaging just 92.3 mb/d, more than 8 mb/d below pre-COVID levels. Finally, the amount of fleet capacity tied up in floating storage or idle due to port delays fell by around 13.2 million deadweight tonnes (mdwt), or 25 percent, during the fourth quarter of 2020, adding to available fleet supply. The combination of slower oil demand growth, limited cargo supply, and an increase in fleet supply has been very negative for crude tanker spot rates”, said Teekay.

Source: Teekay Tankers

The shipowner added that “crude tanker spot rates have remained weak during the first quarter of 2021, and the market faces several headwinds in the near-term. Firstly, despite the start of vaccine programs in many countries, it is expected that the adverse impacts of COVID-19 will continue to dampen oil demand in the coming months. For example, China reintroduced some travel restrictions before the Lunar New Year in response to rising cases, which has led to lower Chinese crude oil imports. Secondly, and in addition to the OPEC+ group cuts already in place, Saudi Arabia has cut oil supply by an additional 1 mb/d in February and March 2021, which is expected to reduce cargo supply. Thirdly, a backwardated oil structure may lead to further inventory drawdowns and the release of more vessels to the spot trading fleet from floating storage in the coming weeks and months”.

Meanwhile, “looking further ahead, oil demand is expected to rise in the latter part of 2021 in tandem with the rollout of coronavirus vaccination programs. As per the IEA, global oil demand is expected to increase by approximately 5.5 mb/d between the first and fourth quarters of 2021, which should in turn lead to higher refinery throughput. In addition, it is anticipated that global oil inventories will revert to more normalized levels during the course of the year, with crude inventories expected to normalize earlier than product inventories, meaning that a rise in oil demand will likely be met by higher oil supply. As such, it is expected that the OPEC+ group will start to return barrels to the market in the second half of 2021, which in turn is expected to be positive for tanker demand. However, the exact timing of these events is uncertain”.

Source: Teekay Tankers

Teekay said that “the fleet supply side of the equation continues to look very favorable. Although there has been a slight uptick in newbuild orders in recent months, the orderbook size remains small by historical standards at approximately 8.1 percent of the existing fleet size. With newbuild prices starting to rise, ongoing uncertainty over vessel technology, and a restrictive financial landscape, the Company expects the overall level of newbuild tanker orders to remain low. In addition, tanker scrapping is expected to pick up in 2021, due to a combination of weaker freight rates, higher scrap prices, and increasing regulatory pressure on older vessels. As a result, tanker fleet growth is expected to remain low during both 2021 and 2022”.

Source: Teekay Tankers

“In summary, the tanker market faces a challenging few months due to the impact of COVID-19 on oil demand, as well as ongoing OPEC+ supply cuts. However, tanker demand is expected to improve later in 2021 as vaccine programs are implemented worldwide, at which time the OPEC+ group is expected to return oil supply to the market. Low tanker fleet growth should further help facilitate an improvement in the tanker market, particularly if tanker scrapping increases over the coming months”, Teekay concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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