Last night the January 2020 ARB was floating at just under $230/ Mt, the difference between the propane price in Asia and the price in Mont Belvieu. Freight has slipped to circa $115/Mt for the Houston to Chiba voyage via the Panama Canal, making up only half of the overall differential. Now I don’t think that’s been the case for a while, even when freight rates from Houston to Chiba had slipped to just above $40/ Mt a couple or so years ago. I think someone said this was “helping netbacks”, how much help do they need!
It always seems difficult to apply the right adjective to a market, strong and weak cover all magnitudes, booming, roaring, explosive, rocketing, rising, surging are all to be found in your on-line thesaurus, but I’m not sure if they are on the button when it comes to what the market showed last week. Asia appears to be moving from reasonably firm to a lot stronger, I guess I’ll have to make do with those descriptive words for now. I used to get excited with sudden jumps in any market, especially if our position just happened to be on the right side of the jump.
I think what has characterized the world I live in over the last week, as well as the LPG market itself, has been a number of surprises, and how situations we have been talking about for weeks and months, now look as if they have come true, beyond any reasonable doubt. We are waking up to a new set of parameters, that will make the next two or three months interesting, if not a lot more predictable. Here in the U.K. most of the country were surprised, in fact very surprised, to see Boris Johnson, and the Conservative Party, storm to victory by such a huge majority.
It’s Election Day in the U.K. as I pen this SIMON SAYS, the third election in 5 years, the stakes are high both for the future of Brexit, the future of the National Health Service, and for that matter the future of the World. The wind is howling, the rain is pouring, it’s a truly British day. I’ve just put my X in the box, my decision made, I’ll now need to wait 12 hours at least to find out who is going to win. It’s been a bit like that for the shipping world, which box do they put their cross in, and what does the future hold.
As we come close to the start of 2020, both the production forecast, and the reality, jump ahead another year. Decisions have been made in advance to order new VLGC buildings, although with a lack of any real perceived urgency, and a stutter attributed to all the uncertainty associated with IMO 2020. We have discussed the reasons before, the long memories of the traditional ship owners for when rates struggled to cover operating expenses (OPEX), that has discouraged them from investing in new buildings on any scale at all.
I was a little stunned to read during my morning LinkedIn flick through, that BW LPG’s CEO Martin Ackermann has decided to step down at the end of the year, after five years at the helm. I was lucky enough to share a panel discussion with Martin in Houston this year at RBN’s “Energy Xport Con”, and although I’ve only known him for a short while, I was impressed how focused, and cool he was under the spotlight of the U.S. energy, and particularly NGL players.
Yesterday we were looking at the OPEC announcement to cut crude oil production by 500 M Bbls/d, and the subsequent announcement that Saudi Arabia would maintain its voluntary and additional 400 M Bbls/d production drop. Just to show how difficult it is to gauge reality from rumour, there were strong noises coming out that earlier, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela had actually proposed a 500 M Bbls/d increase, even though this was of course strenuously denied.
Rumours surfacing, resurfacing, announcements, pronouncements, you guessed it, it’s OPEC time again. It seems more and more the case that whatever OPEC announces our attention in the LPG world, and for that matter the rest of the energy market, switches to Saudi Arabia, and whether Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has said anything, he normally has to!
Throughout most of the SIMON SAYs blogs produced so far I’ve concentrated on the refrigerated LPG market, transported mainly on very large gas carriers (VLGCs), between continents and across large spans of water, to get the supplies to their end destination. Of the approximately 105 million Mt of LPG shipped by sea, the movements by VLGC account for about 70-75 per cent of this trade, but what are the reasons for the other quarter of seaborne volumes being moved by other modes of transport, and what are the striking differences.
I’ve always been fascinated with the way deals are done, the process of negotiation between two parties, maybe with someone in the middle, maybe not. It can be exciting, frustrating, win some, lose some. I think I was more a guy who wanted compromise, while I ended up doing deals with a number of traders hanging out for the last cent, even though I’m sure I would have done more with them if only they had shown a sign of compromise, it’s always good to blame the other party.