US-China trade deal hopes grow as oil prices decline

Workers extract oil from wells in the Permian Basin in Midland, Texas. West Texas Intermediate crude dipped 25 cents per barrel on Tuesday, while Brent crude futures were down 51 cents to $61.72 per barrel. (Getty Images)
Updated 19 June 2019

US-China trade deal hopes grow as oil prices decline

  • Data suggested a smaller-than-expected fall in American crude inventories
  • Preparations underway for Donald Trump to meet Xi Jinping next week at the G20 summit in Osaka

LONDON: Oil prices declined on Wednesday as data suggested a smaller-than-expected fall in American crude inventories, as hopes for a US-China trade deal continue to grow.
Brent crude futures were down 51 cents at $61.72 a barrel.
US West Texas Intermediate crude fell 25 cents to $53.65 a barrel. On Tuesday, it had recorded its biggest daily rise since early January.
After weeks of swelling, US crude stocks fell by 812,000 barrels last week to 482 million, the American Petroleum Institute said on Tuesday, a smaller fall than the 1.1-million-barrel drop analysts had expected.
Official estimates on US crude stockpiles from the US government’s Energy Information Administration are due during afternoon trading.
US President Donald Trump offered some support, saying preparations were underway for him to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping next week at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, amid hopes a trade deal could be thrashed out between the two powers. Trump has repeatedly threatened China with tariffs since winning office in 2016.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi also offered a boost, saying on Tuesday that he would ease policy again if inflation failed to accelerate.
Tensions remain high in the Middle East after last week’s tanker attacks. Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the US have mounted, with Washington blaming Tehran, which has denied any role.
Trump said he was prepared to take military action to stop Iran having a nuclear bomb but left open whether he would approve the use of force to protect Gulf oil supplies.
On Wednesday, oil markets shrugged off a rocket attack on a site in southern Iraq used by foreign oil companies.
“It is interesting to note that the crude oil futures market could not rally on hawks planting bombs in the Strait of Hormuz but could rally on doves planting quantitative easing,” Petromatrix’s Olivier Jakob said in a note.
“This is an oil market that doesn’t know how to react when an oil tanker blows up but knows how to react when the head of a central bank makes some noise.”
Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have agreed to meet on July 1, followed by a meeting with non-OPEC allies on July 2, after weeks of wrangling over dates.
OPEC and its allies will discuss whether to extend a deal on cutting 1.2 million barrels per day of production that runs out this month.


Tankers defer retrofits to cash in on freight rates

Updated 19 October 2019

Tankers defer retrofits to cash in on freight rates

  • The rates for chartering a supertanker from the US Gulf Coast to Singapore hit record highs of more than $17 million and a record $22 million to China earlier this week

SINGAPORE: Tankers that had been scheduled to install emissions-cutting equipment ahead of stricter pollution standards starting in 2020 have deferred their visits to the dry docks to capitalize on an unexpected surge in freight rates, three trade sources said.

US sanctions on subsidiaries of vast Chinese shipping fleet Cosco in September sparked a surge in global oil shipping rates as traders scrambled to find non-blacklisted vessels to get their oil to market.

The rates for chartering a supertanker from the US Gulf Coast to Singapore hit record highs of more than $17 million and a record $22 million to China earlier this week.

By comparison, prior to the sanctions, shipping crude from the US Gulf to China cost around $6 million-$8 million.

The extraordinary spike in freight rates proved too good to miss for some shipowners who were due to send vessels to the dry docks for lengthy retrofitting and maintenance work.

“We can confirm several owners have postponed dry docking earlier scheduled for the months of October and November to take advantage of the skyrocketing freight rates,” said Rahul Kapoor, head of maritime and trade research at IHS Markit in Singapore.

The shortage of ships to move crude oil was so acute that some shipowners also switched from carrying so-called “clean” or refined fuels like gasoline to “dirty” cargoes that include crude oil, despite the costs of having to clean them later.

“Current rate levels are a no-brainer for pushing back scrubber retrofitting,” said Kapoor.

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires the use of marine fuel with a sulfur limit of 0.5 percent, down from 3.5 percent currently, significantly inflating shippers’ fuel bills.

Only ships fitted with expensive exhaust cleaning systems, known as scrubbers, which can remove sulfur from emissions, will be allowed to continue burning cheaper high-sulfur fuels.

Ships must be sidelined for up to 60 days for fitting these, according to IHS Markit and DNV GL.

While freight rates have abruptly come off their recent highs, shipowners can still profit from the higher charges.

“One cargo loading at current elevated rate levels can not only finance the scrubber capex, but also account for extra costs incurred to install the scrubber at a later date,” said Kapoor, referring to the capital expenditure of fitting the scrubber.

Freight rates are expected to hold firm for the rest of the year.

“With seasonal demand support and tanker supply deficit still pronounced, we expect (fourth-quarter) tanker freight rates to stay elevated and end the year on a high note,” Kapoor said.