The Netherlands became the largest importer of US crude oil in January 2019, beating Canada even when considering total and not just seaborne exports, according to a report by Bimco’s chief shipping analyst Peter Sand.
He also reported that South Korea, the biggest importer of seaborne crude oil exports in 2018, fell to fourth place in January 2019.
Until mid-2018, China was the largest, accounting for 23.3% of all seaborne exports in the first six months of 2018, but received no US crude in January 2019.
“Although small volumes of US crude oil were sent to China in November and December, following a three-month pause in the trade, Bimco did not take this as a sign that tensions between the two countries had eased, and were therefore not surprised by the lack of exports to China in January. A positive outcome from the ongoing trade negotiations is needed if this trade is to return to levels seen before the trade war,” said Mr Sand.
According to Bimco, US exports of crude oil have since August 2018 continued to rise every month, with a new record high in January of 9.6M tonnes on the back of increased sales to Europe, which rose from 2.7M tonnes in December 2018 to 4.8M tonnes in January 2019.
Although volumes were record high in January, tonne-mile demand dropped following a record-breaking peak in December. US seaborne crude oil volumes generated 83.8Bn tonne miles in December, falling 19.7% to 67.3Bn in January, still over twice as many as in January 2017.
Mr Sand noted that a drop in the share of exports to Asia meant that average sailing distances were shorter.
Exports to Asia fell from 4.9M tonnes in December to 3.2M tonnes in January, with a large drop from South Korea – 2.3M tonnes in December 2018 to 0.8M tonnes in January 2019.
After China stopped buying US crude oil when the two nations’ relationship soured, South Korea bought much of the crude oil that would otherwise have gone to China.
Exports to South Korea rose by 318% compared to 2017, making it the largest buyer of seaborne crude oil in 2018.
This limited the impact of the trade war on tonne-mile demand for the crude oil tanker market, noted Mr Sand.
“The importance of Asia cannot be underestimated when considering how US crude oil exports impact the shipping industry. In 2018, 71.5% of tonne-mile demand generated by US crude oil exports originated from exports to Asia. The sudden drop in exports to Asia in January was therefore particularly harmful to the crude oil tanker shipping industry.
“VLCC earnings rose to US$53,121 per day in November, when vessels are being fixed for the following month, before falling again in January when tonne-mile demand dropped,” said Mr Sand.
“From Houston to the Netherlands, a ship has to sail around 5,000 nautical miles, while a trip from Houston to South Korea is around 15,500 nautical miles, tripling the distance and employing crude oil tankers for much longer.”
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