Happy New Year to everyone in the world of LPG. And what a festive season to remember, and I’m not talking about presents, turkey and seeing in the New Year with your favourite tipple. The dislocation in the market has gained even greater momentum over the last two weeks, as the ARB has widened to over $300/ mt for the prompt month of January 2020. For propane that’s the equivalent of over 60 cents/ gallon. And yet the producer, having shifted his barrels to Mont Belvieu, is struggling to get much more than 45 cents/ gallon for his product.
We’re coming up to the Christmas festivities and the sentiment in the market is extremely robust. Although the physical commotion isn’t anywhere near resembling Oxford Street on Christmas Eve, in itself it’s maybe a hint that there aren’t that many spare cargoes loitering around in the market, especially for delivery in January 2020.
It feels as if the political baton has been passed over the Atlantic, with the announcement yesterday that the Democrats had won the vote in the House of Representatives to impeach President Trump. As we in the U.K. had to go through the embarrassment, and the peculiarities of the House of Commons rules and procedures, as one side favouring remain, representing different parties but not always their constituents, out-voted a Government aiming to put in place what they described as the vote of the people to leave the European Union.
It’s that time of year again when we all try to make predictions of what’s going to happen next year in the LPG industry, and start to think about setting a few New Year’s resolutions, some we’ll keep and others we won’t. Will it be more interesting than this year, well the LPG market always throws up surprises, and that is about all we can guarantee. Bring on the new decade!
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.