Tankers: Increase in Ton-Mile Demand Boosts Euronav’s Financial Results

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Euronav NV reported its final financial results on Friday for the full year to 31 December 2023.

The large crude tanker market continued to recover during 2023 from the structural and political factors that boosted earnings in the previous year. VLCC rates caught up with Suezmax rates in a year marked by a number of counter-seasonal increases in activity and earnings, reflecting the tight dynamics between vessel supply and crude demand.

The structural dislocation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has driven additional ton-miles, especially in smaller tanker segments (Aframax & Suezmax) and is embedded in market dynamics. The recovery in crude oil during the first half of 2023 contributed to two notable increases in freight rates and tanker activity in March/April and June. During both periods, freight rates rose to USD 60-80,000 per day on the back of an annual crude consumption growth of 2.2 million barrels per day to total 101.7 mb/d by 2023.

The trend of limited recycling activity continues, again driven by ever-improving freight rates, but also by the growing “dark fleet” – vessels trading sanctioned business. This trade, highlighted in last year’s report, has expanded due to the conflict in Ukraine and has provided potential scrap candidates with opportunities to earn more lucrative rates.

However, the fundamentals of the tanker market remain constructive. Although the Suezmax order book had reasonable inflows last year and the number of VLCC contracts increased, newbuilding activity remains limited with an order book-to-fleet ratio below historical levels. Global fleet ages for the VLCC and Suezmax sectors are at the highest levels since 2000, with on top of that about a third of both current fleets set to exceed 15 years in the next five years. Current and scheduled regulations will continue to impact older tonnage hardest and it is notable that despite a freight rate background similar to 2019/2020, the speed of larger tankers is 7% lower than in that period. New environmental and operational regulations are starting to have a supportive impact on the market as well.

Looking ahead to 2024, the global economy remains resilient to various recent negative shocks, and oil demand forecasts are on the rise. The International Energy Agency (IEA) is the latest to forecast a supply shortfall later this year. Oil demand has reached new peaks year after year, despite forecasts for a peak in oil demand. Moreover, crude oil production growth in the US, Canada, Brazil and Guyana, combined with demand growth in Asia, should continue to ensure longer voyages and increasing ton-mile growth. Low global inventories also support growing overseas trade.

The tanker market is recovering from a long period of volatile rates as growth in new ship supply slows while oil demand recovers in line with the global economy. A historically low order book, coupled with favourable fundamental demand, is expected to sustain increased spot rate volatility. This volatility, compounded by ongoing geopolitical unrest, should underpin freight rates in the medium to long term. Given the revised forecasts of increased oil demand, and possible oil production increases in the second half of the year, this could be beneficial for tanker owners.

Source: Euronav