Chinese demand buoys chemtanker rates.
JUST like every other sector of shipping, growing Chinese petrochemicals demand is dragging the global fleet of chemical tankers out of a 15-month rates trough.
Although Odfjell remains cautious about 2010 prospects, seaborne trade for chemical tankers was forecast to rise by 7% in 2010, according to RS Platou"s quarterly report. Shipments for 2009 were not provided, but seaborne trade in chemicals reached 170m tonnes in 2008.
Chinese petrochemicals imports were expected to offset weaker demand in the European Union and US, with spot earnings to strengthen as a result.
Helping underpin any recovery in chemical tanker rates is the weaker US dollar, which has boosted exports from North America. The US produces 19% of total world chemical output, while the fastest-growing exporting region, the Middle East, has ramped up business to Asia, providing employment for larger ships transporting ethylene.
Odfjell"s results showed that freight rates for 1,000 tonnes of steel-grade chemicals shipped from Houston to Rotterdam was now around $62 per tonne, just above five-year lows of $60 seen in the first and second quarters of 2009, and well below peaks of $100 in early 2007.
However, freight rates from Houston to the Far East were up 20%, at just under $100 per tonne, compared with lows of $80 per tonne seen in the final quarter of 2008. The same trend has been seen for 3,000-tonne cargoes of easygrade chemicals from Houston to the Far East, which rose sharply in the final quarter above $80 per tonnes.
RS Platou forecasts chemical tanker earnings for companies such as Odfjell, Stolt-Nielsen and Eitzen Chemical to rise 6% in 2010 and 5% in 2011, after falling by 10% in 2009.
The overhang of available ships has declined steadily, with fewer bidders for cargoes and owners able to fix cargoes longer in advance than previously, suggesting that the sector is normalising, the Norwegian broker said.