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Industry Opinions


An Issue of Sulf-Deprecation
August 01, 2014
Throughout the past decade, the worldwide fuel de-sulfurization effort has permeated many industries, not the least of which is shipping. Although still highly regionalized, the upcoming changes to marine fuel specifications in North America and the North and Baltic Seas have many shipowners, especially those with spot market exposure, rightfully concerned about the impact to their collective bottom lines. Emission Control Areas, or ECAs, that effectively restrict the amount of sulfur and particulate matter emitted by ships geographically, are in the process of being ratified in stages by the International Maritime Organization. While it is true that the Worldscale system makes a special provision for the additional costs associated with calling ports subject to stricter fuel specifications, the rigidity of the remuneration process could likely still leave many exposed.
Turn Down For What?
July 25, 2014
In general, the seasonality of the tanker market typically leads to weaker spot market rates in the mid-late summer months. Historically, the fourth and first quarters of the year have had the strongest freight rates, for most sectors, due to heightened winter demand in the northern hemisphere, weather and restricted daylight hours in key ports or waterways. However, this summer, it appears that freight rates could be on the brink of a trend buck. The relative, general firmness across most of the crude tanker sectors suggests that stronger crude oil demand may now be pitted against what could ultimately be considered moderating supply.
Lock, Stock a Barrel: The Return of Contango?
July 18, 2014
The swirl of political events and policy changes over the past few weeks has churned out mixed results for the crude oil markets. At this point it is difficult to characterize the state of the market as anything but flux. The persistence of geopolitical unrest – Ukraine v. Russia, Iraq v. Iraq, and Israel v. Gaza – has supported overall price levels above near-term historical averages. But, crude oil price benchmarks that typically move in tandem, diverged this week. Perhaps eclipsing the shaky political climate, infrastructure developments and policy changes have, at least for the short-term, apparently decoupled the US crude oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), and its European counterpart, Brent, in potentially significant ways. While it is too soon to say whether this will be sustained, this development could raise some interesting prospects for the tanker market.
Ain’t That the Cure for the Summertime Blues
July 11, 2014
It seems that there is somewhat of a renewed optimism in the tanker market. Whether it is warranted or not, remains to be seen. With half of the year now behind us, a fresh look at oil demand fundamentals reveals stronger-than-anticipated growth in both OECD and non-OECD countries, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). In addition, this week, pockets of the spot tanker market showed surprising signs of life after what could generally be considered a fairly quiet May and June. While it is likely too soon to assess the longevity of positive support in freight rates, demand growth coupled with seeming supply moderation could be an early indication that the market at least has the potential for rebalance.
Another Rumble in the Jungle
July 03, 2014
Although the last of the African soccer teams have left the World Cup in the round of 16, the importance of African nations in the worldwide crude oil markets is poised for a more positive fate. Take Angola for example. The first commercial oil discovery in Angola, then a Portuguese colony, was made back in 1955. After Angola gained independence in 1975, a civil war broke out that lasted for 27 years. As seen in Fig. 1, despite this conflict, Angolan production gradually increased, reaching almost 750,000 barrels per day by 2000 - most of which came from offshore fields off the coast of Cabinda. However, the hostilities did delay the development of several deepwater fields that were discovered in the 1990s. When the internal conflict ended in 2002, production quickly ramped up until 2008 as multiple deepwater fields came online. Angolan production peaked in 2008 at approximately 1.9 million barrels per day. Since then, the country’s production has been stagnant, mainly due to technical challenges as well as steep decline rates associated with some of these fields.
Redefining Refining: Separating Condensate from Crude Oil
June 27, 2014
This week’s kerfuffle was prompted by a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article that boldly claimed:

“The Obama administration cleared the way for the first exports of unrefined American oil in nearly four decades, allowing energy companies to start chipping away at the longtime ban on selling U.S. oil abroad.”

Well, that’s one way to sell newspapers. While not entirely true in the way the WSJ would have one believe at first blush, the express permission via a Private Letter Ruling by the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) that grants two companies, Pioneer Natural Resources Co. and Enterprise Products Partners LP, the ability to export stabilized condensate does raise some existential questions.
Eastbound or Down
June 20, 2014
Although the term ‘energy independence’ has significantly receded from US policy vernacular since the advent of shale oil and gas, recent geopolitical developments in Iraq and the Ukraine lend support to arguments made by Keystone XL proponents. Energy independence was a key platform item for President Obama in his first campaign, and perceived or real environmental concerns aside, it seems somewhat hypocritical that crude oil, which is essentially on the US’s doorstep, would not be welcomed with open arms. This week, a Senate panel passed a bill that could permit the Senate to circumvent President Obama on the approval of the project. But, not so fast! The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, still seemingly stands between the pipeline and its people. Since this decision, it could be argued that the prognosis for Keystone XL’s approval has improved, but even without this particular pipeline Canadian crude oil is and will continue to find its way to (and even out of) the US Gulf.
Putting the Mess in Mesopotamia
June 13, 2014
Things appear to be heating up in Iraq, and not just the temperature. Sunni militia, mainly affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS) captured territory in the northern part of the country, including Mosul the second largest city in Iraq, and Tikrit, closer to Baghdad. So far the Sunni insurgents have not threatened the oil rich territory around Kirkuk and the southern part of the country. But their rapid conquests raise fear the country is in its way to a brutal ethnic battles and civil war, with the potential of sucking in international powers and neighboring countries.
The World Cup Runneth Over
June 06, 2014
As the World Cup kicks off next week, many a watchful eye will be drawn to the pastoral pitches of Brazil. Like many countries that host international sporting events, a flurry of construction and knock on fuel demand will likely ensue. Aside from the short-term economic benefits of being a host nation, larger transitions are taking shape in the Brazilian petroleum industry that will yield broader ramifications for the tanker market for many years to come. The last decade saw Brazil transform from a net fuel importer to a crude oil producing powerhouse. But Brazil’s existing refineries, not unlike the United States', were built to handle a crude oil type of yore: that said, new refining capacity is due to come on stream in the next few years that will more effectively process the Brazilian crude oils of today. As a result, Brazil will likely evolve into a more balanced petroleum nation perhaps to the detriment of demand for certain tanker sectors.
Capitol Hillbillies: Awash In Black Gold
May 30, 2014
As US domestic crude oil production continues to grow, so does the speculation of whether or not exports will be permitted. Since domestically produced crude oil tends to be of the lighter/sweeter variety and the penchant of the US refining complex is for heavy/sour crude, it stands to reason that we are structurally long the wrong grade. To those in the know, the qualities of each crude oil grade prevent it from being a truly fungible commodity – a fact that seemingly continues to escape most politicians. To date, the export of crude oil has proven to be a difficult sell. Although exports may happen on a case-by-case basis, a widespread repeal of the ban seems unlikely under the Obama regime. That said, fervor and momentum appears to be building as new research and opinion is published on the subject. However, make no mistake, misinformation on the crude oil market and related economics will continue to be the flavor in Washington until at least 2016.
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