OPEC Cuts Hurt VLCC and Suezmax Markets


Published Feb 20, 2017 6:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

Consultant Maritime Strategies International (MSI) has forecast a testing time for the crude tanker market over the next six months – and perhaps longer if OPEC is successful in extending production cuts beyond the first half of 2017.

In its latest Tanker Freight Forecaster MSI notes that the VLCC and Suezmax markets moved unequivocally downwards in January, with spot rates sliding rapidly from a seasonally strong December. Pressure has persisted in these sectors in February leaving the crude tanker spot market under increasing strain.

More mixed dynamics and volatile conditions characterized the Aframax and product tanker sectors in January, but in both segments resistance to the current downturn in spot rates has been limited, and in February conditions across the tanker market sector are poor and deteriorating.

“OPEC is one clear culprit behind the downturn, with compliance to committed cuts estimated at close to 90 percent so far in January, another is the huge amount of refinery maintenance scheduled to occur in the near-term,” says MSI Senior Analyst Tim Smith. “We are likely to see a peak of close to six million bpd of capacity offline around the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter, implying that overall crude import demand will be weak over the next three months exacerbating the effect of the OPEC cuts.”

OPEC's next test will be resisting output increases beyond this period of refinery maintenance when underlying demand rebounds. The second half of the second quarter is likely to be pivotal for the tanker sector, but with some OPEC members already calling for even deeper cuts, MSI doesn’t foresee major upside in the near-term.

This view is being reinforced by high rates of fleet growth; 12 VLCCs are estimated to have hit the water in January, increasing fleet capacity by 1.6 percent in a single month. Crude carrier deliveries will continue to be frontloaded in 2017 as a surge in Suezmax deliveries hits the water over the next three months, with around 20-25 deliveries expected.

“With a combination of OPEC cuts, low refinery utilization and continued influx of new tonnage, the fundamentals for the crude market do not look constructive over the six-month horizon,” adds Smith. “We expect spot market conditions to remain weak whilst VLCC one year time charter rates have some room to run before we expect them bottom near the third quarter, close to $25,000/day.”

Suezmax spot earnings have followed the broader market trend at the start of 2017, moving down sharply from December levels on a monthly average basis in January while the Aframax segment is expected to follow a similar pattern to its larger counterparts over the first half of 2017.