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!
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.
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?
At a recent gathering of the good and the mighty in Athens, I understand a distinguished ship owner was able to hold a relatively straight face when explaining the challenges, or something along those lines, faced by the VLGC ship owners in the current mesmerizingly strong LPG shipping market. I’m sure every investor who boarded the run early, maybe even after reading my summer and autumn SIMON SAYS blogs, is sitting extremely comfortably today as he checks his share portfolio. But what happens next, is there going to be a twist, there usually is!
It’s a bit like trying to find a red bus on London’s Oxford Street when you really need one, just when the market could have done with a few extra LPG cargoes appearing from the U.S. Gulf, as well as more clarity on when new midstream and export expansion capacity was about to arrive, nothing much happened, but the clock keeps ticking, and with the blink of an eye we will be seeing in the New Year, 2020. It looks to me as if all those red buses are going to arrive pretty much all at once, but will we have enough passengers, or in our world, NGL production, to fill the bus up.
It’s one of the most exciting parts of trading is not just buying a cargo somewhere, anywhere, but being able to fix a ship to load it, especially a Very Large Gas Carrier (VLGC). Of course, I like the pressurised, semi-refrigerated, mid-sizes etc., but to me the big ships are the heart of international LPG trading. I explained in Monday’s SIMON SAYS how the two cost elements of the ARB are the terminal fees, and the freight rate applicable for the Houston to Chiba, Japan voyage.
I’m really enjoying looking in on the LPG market from the perimeter fence for once, and there’s no bigger question on my mind than, when? The “when” relates to when are we going to see somebody in the LPG shipping market really break the new building ice, not just crack it in a couple of places. The gauntlet has been thrown down, but will anyone pick it up?