While the dogma of “America First” is a time-bomb in the foundations of free trade and its growth prosects, especially as it’s starting to materialize from fiction to reality, crude tanker owners are looking for the silver lining of the US economy these days. This can be found in the form of a booming export trade of crude oil, which has the potential to offer a much needed boost in the tanker freight market. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Cotzias Intermodal Shipping, said that the “US shale production continues to grow rapidly, hitting new records and with projections being revised upwardly at every turn. According to the International Energy Agency, the US will overtake Russia as the world’s #1 crude oil producer by next year, having surpassed 10m bpd in late 2017 and slated to surpass 11m bpd by the end of 2018”.
According to the shipbroker, “over the past two years US shale oil companies have managed to become more efficient, optimizing production processes and utilizing new technologies and practices at lower costs. This is attributed in part to technological breakthroughs on the drilling side; Break-even points for US production have been driven substantially downward. It remains to be seen if this increase will be sustainable but at this point most pundits do not see production peaking before 2020. The booming production has of course unnerved other producers and oil markets globally and comes at a time when other producers have voluntarily capped their own production in order to prop up prices. During 2017, we witnessed the spike in prices due to OPEC production cuts with prices steadily correcting upwards since November 2016. Oil is currently trading in the low $60s, after peaking at a 3-year high of ~$66pb”.
Linos Kogevinas, Commercial Executive with Cotzias Intermodal Shipping, said that “OPEC and its allied producers are seeing their market shares eroded by the increasing US production. At the same time, US oil imports are also dropping, further shrinking profits from OPEC established markets. With this in mind, it will be very interesting to see how the commodity price will fare under these new conditions. US shale production will be extremely important to watch over the next 5 years. It is almost certain that production will continue to grow in the next years. However, a number of factors will determine if this growth will be sustainable long term and how the market will balance itself under a future -potentially different- status quo”.
According to Kogevinas, “on the tanker side a growing US production is good news as exports from the country could be offering more and more support to rates in the future as apart from Europe and Latin America, the long haul trips to the Far East and particularly to China is gaining increasing momentum. Thomson Reuters data reveals that US shipments specifically to China that were non-existent prior to 2016 have now reached a new record of around 2.01 million metric tonnes or 474,450 barrels/day during last month. Sinopec, the biggest oil refiner in China, expects to import 10 million metric tonnes of crude oil from the US during 2018. As the production cap from OPEC and Russia continues, the fairly new and quickly increasing flow of the commodity from the US to S. Korea, Japan and China is definitely something to watch out for. Additionally as a growing US production will almost certainly keep undermining OPECs efforts to boost oil prices, this means that the price of the commodity will keep moving – at least for the short to medium term- within a specific range that is still considered attractive for consuming countries maybe not compared to early 2016 levels but certainly when compared to mid-2014 levels of around $ 100/barrel”, he concluded.