Asian VLCC rates hit a one-month high Tuesday, with some owners holding back ships in anticipation of more cargoes and better returns for July loading dates once Far East refineries return from maintenance, sources said.
Platts assessed the key Persian Gulf to Japan route at Worldscale 37,5, the highest in a month as fresh deals were being concluded above the last done levels. The rate fell to a low of w31.75 on June 2 from a two-year high of w73 on January 22, according to Platts data.
"The tonnage list for the third decade is getting thinner," said a source with a VLCC owner. Some owners are holding back ships and so supply has got reduced, the source said.
Shipping pools and companies such as Frontline, Ocean Tankers and Tankers International were not keen on offering ships in the low w30s, according to brokers and charterers.
The four-week supply is holding steady at 92, with 20 ships still available for loading until the end of the second decade of June and 40 until the end of the month, according to shipping industry estimates.
However, market watchers said at least 15 of these ships are not being offered as the owners consider the returns unattractive. This, in turn, has led to a modest revival in rates, which may get a further fillip as fixtures increase once refinery units under maintenance resume operations next month.
Asian crude refining capacity of at least 940,000 b/d will be shut for maintenance next month, compared with 2.03 million b/d in June, 2.12 million last month, 1.67 million b/d in April and 1.48 million b/d in March, according to data collated by Platts.
"Owners have begun to dig in their heels and wait and see...because it does not make sense to hire out a ship if rates are not even enough to meet the operational costs," said a second source with a VLCC owner.
Also, even if operational costs are covered, there are several other expenses, the source said. Owners' daily earnings are currently $8,000-9,000, according to brokers. Last week, they had declined below $3,000.
Charterers were quick to say the fundamentals of demand and supply continued to be weak. "Late last week many charterers entered the market to take advantage of the lower rates and owners resisted strongly", said a chartering source with a South Korean refiner. There has been only a nominal increase in rates because overall demand is still weak, the source said.
Total fixtures declined to 110 last month from 131 in April, and market watchers expected they will continue on the lower side this month.
According to broker estimates, 82 fixtures have been done for loading this month in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, including 67 for the east, nine for the west, and six for optional voyages.
The move was attributed to refinery maintenance. "Even if some of the [refinery] units are resuming operations, others are moving into maintenance," said a chartering source with a north Asian refiner.
Japanese refiner Taiyo Oil plans to shut its 118,000 b/d Kikuma refinery mid-June for a full turnaround of two months. Toa Oil, another Japanese refiner, restarted the 70,000 b/d crude distillation unit at its Keihin refinery in Tokyo Bay on May 27 after completing a scheduled turnaround.
Sources at shipowners said cargo stem nominations for July, due next week, will give an indication of any revival in demand.
Meanwhile, charterers continued to scout for cheaper tonnage. South Korea's S-Oil had placed a 1999-built ship on subjects at w32.25 for June 20 loading on the Persian Gulf to Onsan route, basis 274,000 mt.
Newbuild VLCCs are expect to hit the market this year. The global VLCC fleet was estimated at 630 as of end-May, after 10 new additions and four deletions so far this year, according to broker estimates. The order book for 2014 is put at 16 newbuilds, with 21 and 42 for next year and 2016, respectively.
--Sameer C. Mohindru; email@example.com
--Edited by Dan Lalor, firstname.lastname@example.org