Major profits for Capesizes

It has been seven years since the tanker market started showing signs of improvement. In September 1999, the climate in the market was particularly subdued, with major worries about its future course. In October 1999, 24 very large crude carriers (VLCCs) went to the scrapyard, but in March 2000 something suddenly began to change. Chartering rates started rebounding and there was general activity after a period of stagnancy and a revival of interest. Something was on the horizon, something was happening, results were more favorable. Things were certainly looking up but nobody could have imagined the extent of the recovery. So how good is good? Perhaps this could be best answered by the following example: In March 2000, an Aframax tanker and a Capesize dry-bulk vessel could be ordered for $37.5 million each, to be delivered in March 2002. Provided the vessels were paid for in cash, and with operating expenses reaching $5,600 per day for the Aframax and $5,500 per day for the Capesize, by March 2007 the Aframax would have generated profits of $58.6 million (not including operating expenses) and the Capesize $63.1 million. Consequently, the Capesize would have been paid off in March 2005 and the Aframax in June 2005. But that is not all. The current price of a five-year-old Capesize (2002-2007) is $92 million and that of a corresponding Aframax $65.5 million. If we add sales to these operating revenues and deduct the purchase price, we would have gains of $86.6 million from the Aframax and $117.6 million from the Capesize. This shows that even the «attractive» tankers do not fetch as much as a Capesize. This is what happened in 2000 and we realized it in 2007, although we should now be thinking what would happen in 2014 if we were to buy an Aframax and a Capesize. Hard to make plans Current market levels would justify complex, costly and ambitious plans for various ventures that until recently were deemed unprofitable, also due to environmental protection requirements. Oil companies, apart from the considerable challenges of the times owing to rising oil prices which, moreover, are expected to increase further, have to deal with the complexities of shipping too, in a market particularly prone to shifts. As the chart shows, long-term planning is particularly difficult in such a volatile market. The annual review by British Petroleum actually focuses its interest on four main domains: safety, drafting and realizing plans, long-term investment and prospects/forecasts of the energy industry. Both oil companies and shipowners are up against an increasing number of stringent new regulations – relating to shipbuilding, gas emissions etc – which are aimed at protecting the environment. These regulations have a significant impact on their activities, while special provision is also made regarding safety levels, which have certainly improved recently. The planning and investment horizon of oil companies, which is prepared decades in advance, now requires parallel planning of fleet growth, as charterers and shipowners negotiate long-term chartering, while particularly high construction tariffs lead shipowners to make binding decisions about their ships’ operation well ahead of actual delivery. The rise in demand is the main reason for the creation of more capacity, as new routes from the Mediterranean/West Africa to the Far East have increased their ton/mile ratio by absorbing the mostly double-hulled tankers. Lastly, government pressure on oil companies to encourage investment in other forms of energy remains strong. But although investment in solar energy and wind power, as well as the swing toward biofuel, may be significant, no viable alternative has so far emerged.

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