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.
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.
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.
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.
Although last week was shortened by the Thanksgiving holiday, a few more pieces seemed to be falling into place in the U.S., and for that matter when moving out of the U.S. as well. If we then add in a few what might or might not happen questions, it was actually an eventful last week of November. Then came the attention on the U.S. from Asia, concern may be, as well as from a small number of trading houses nestling in the major cities of Europe. But why the concern?
I hope it’s been a good Thanksgiving for producers, mid-streamers, exporters, consumers, in fact anyone connected with the U.S. NGL business. I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one linking propane to Thanksgiving, as I came across a lovely website and a blog produced by Blue Rhino, who appear to be an “exchange of cylinder” driven retailer. Well they have published a blog called “The Beginner’s Guide to the Perfect Thanksgiving Meal”, and in the first paragraph they have mentioned the word “grill” 4 times, just to make sure I have an idea of what’s coming next.
I still believe that if you have any serious intentions to be a player in the LPG world, you need a ship, whether you own it or charter it doesn’t really matter, all that counts is that you have one. Now a lot of people will remind me that the market has been on its knees many times over the last ten years or so, and for many periods before that, and isn’t this just me trying to ride the wave of the current strength in the freight market.
I bet some of you are saying that all I seem to talk about these days is that damn ARB, from Houston to Chiba, but to soothe any sore feelings I’m going to explain a little more about the direction of seaborne trade. Not just the route from the U.S. to Asia, however important it might be. We’ve all seen the world maps with those directional arrows, and in a nutshell that’s pretty much what it is all about. Whatever anybody says you can’t beat a good world map!
In yesterday’s SIMON SAYS I told the post shale story for U.S. LPG exports, especially those from the U.S. Gulf coast, and how once everybody had signed up to buy at high terminal fees, the bottom suddenly caved in on the market in the summer of 2016, and it was here to stay for longer than anyone ever wanted. The result was that Chinese end-users began to cancel, or try to renegotiate their term contracts, as they could take advantage of cheaper Middle East product and discounted naphtha. That’s putting it kindly, what was really happening was wholesale reneging!