ECONOMY

LPG sector grows further

The prospects of the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) market, a growing shipping sector in recent years, appear very positive, according to a report by German-Dutch bank DVB. LPG ships carry chemical products and chemical oil products. Among the companies with current prospective interests in the sector are New York-listed Stealth Gas company of the Vafias family, the Angelikousis group, Dorian Hellas and the Latsis group. The recent report by DVB, which specializes in the transport sector, suggests that the LPG domain’s growth will continue this and next year, rewarding those who have positioned themselves well in the market by investing in new ships. Recent data shows that the supply-demand balance appears positive, thanks to the increase in production of LPG products, mainly from the Middle East and West Africa, while demand continues to rise. At the same time, LPG vessel availability is relatively low, therefore freight rates are also on the rise. The most positive messages are coming from the orders front; no oversupply is expected for any category of ships, meaning that the market’s fundamentals will, in the next few years, remain positive for LPG ship owners. Despite the switch of several companies to the LPG sector and the building of new such vessels in the last couple of years, the actual balance remains in the owners’ favor. The best prospects are with the most popular sector of vessels, those carrying under 8,000 cubic meters, where Stealth Gas and Dorian Hellas are mainly active. The existing new ship orders in this category cover just 10 percent of the current fleet, based on ships’ numbers and 15 percent in terms of shipping capacity. In the last couple of years, 64 new ships have been ordered, although this year about 103 vessels will reach the age limit of 30, a sign of an expected renewal of the existing fleet, even if it is still too early to know how many of those will eventually end up in the scrapyard. The picture is different in very large gas carriers (VLGCs), which can carry products in excess of 70,000 cubic meters. Many construction orders have recently been placed for such ships, risking an oversupply unless demand also grows to meet it. In 2008, 22 new VLGC ships are also to be delivered, increasing shipping capacity in this category by 3.36 million cubic meters. Similar pressure may be exercised on the medium-sized LPG ships which carry between 22,000 and 50,000 cubic meters, as well as on ethylene-carrying tankers. This latter’s number is set to rise considerably over the next couple of years, with many deliveries expected from shipyards. Illustrating the switch by more companies toward the LPG market is that in early 2004 only 34 ships were pending delivery, against 165 which are under construction, to be delivered by 2009; their total shipping capacity is estimated at 5 million cubic meters. January data estimates existing capacity at 14.6 mln cubic meters.