The Indian rupee’s slump to a record low is curbing tanker demolitions, prolonging a capacity glut and the most unprofitable freight rates in at least 16 years.
Shipping companies sold 22 for demolition in the first half, from 35 in 2012, according to Clarkson Plc, the biggest shipbroker. Indian yards, which break up the most tankers, buy in dollars and sell scrap in rupees, which weakened 9.7 percent against the U.S. currency this year, according to ACM Shipping Group Plc, a shipbroker in London. The largest tankers, yielding about 37,500 metric tons of steel, fetched $14 million in May, 6.9 percent less than a year earlier, Clarkson data show.
Lower prices in India are being mirrored by competitors in Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, deterring sales of obsolete ships, according to Global Marketing Systems Inc., the largest buyer. That’s prolonging the biggest capacity glut in supertankers since 1985 at a time when seaborne crude imports by China and the U.S., the two largest consumers, are declining. Rates were unprofitable in all but four months since July 2010 and freight swaps anticipate at least two more years of losses.
“Weakness in the rupee hinders an already huge need to scrap ships and return this market to a more balanced state,” said Erik Folkeson, an analyst at Swedbank First Securities AS in Oslo whose recommendations on the shares of shipping companies returned 17 percent in the past two years. “A mix of soft demand, high vessel deliveries and little scrapping is devastating to the tanker market.”
Returns for very large crude carriers, the industry’s biggest vessels, averaged $6,234 a day in the first half, the worst for the period since at least 1997, Clarkson data show. Frontline Ltd., the largest VLCC operator until last year, says it needs $25,500 to break even. Rates won’t exceed that level before 2016 at the earliest, according to freight-swaps data compiled by Bloomberg.
Shares of Frontline, based in Hamilton, Bermuda, slumped 32 percent to 12.55 kroner ($2.04) in Oslo this year. They will decline another 32 percent to 8.51 kroner in 12 months, according to the average of 14 analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. The company, founded by billionaire John Fredriksen, reported losses every year since 2011 and will stay unprofitable through at least 2015, the analyst estimates show.
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., based in Tokyo, is the biggest owner of VLCCs, which haul 2 million barrels of oil. Shares of the company, whose fleet includes gas carriers and container ships, climbed 58 percent to 401 yen ($3.97) this year. Mitsui said in April it would return to profit as a weakening yen boosts the value of repatriated dollar earnings.
The rupee plunged after the shortfall in India’s current account widened to a record 4.8 percent of gross domestic product in the year ended March 31. Foreign investment in Indian debt fell by $5.37 billion in June, the most since at least 2008, according to Securities and Exchange Board data.
The expansion of the fleet is slowing after a five-year surge driven by freight rates that rose as high as $229,000 in November 2007. The biggest VLCC-building program in four decades is now ending, with outstanding orders for new vessels equal to 10 percent of existing capacity, according to IHS Fairplay, a Redhill, England-based research company. The proportion was 48 percent five years ago.
Fleet capacity will expand 2 percent this year, compared with 5.9 percent in 2012 and 7.8 percent in 2011, according to London-based Clarkson, the world’s biggest shipbroker.
The supply of new ships may be curbed after China Rongsheng Heavy Industries Group Holdings Ltd., China’s biggest ship yard outside state control, said July 5 that it’s seeking financial support after a plunge in orders. A third of the nation’s yards may shut down in five years, the China Association of National Shipbuilding Industry said.
The losses in shipping extend across other parts of the merchant fleet, with the ClarkSea Index, a measure of returns across the industry, averaging $9,139 a day in the second quarter, Clarkson data show. It was the third-worst quarter in the past two decades.
Some parts of the fleet are recovering as demand catches up with capacity. Tankers hauling gasoline and diesel between Europe and the U.S. are earning $13,744 a day, the most for this time of year since at least 2009, according to data from the Baltic Exchange, a publisher of freight rates on more than 50 trade routes. Charter costs of $74.38 a ton for vessels carrying liquefied petroleum gas are close to a record.
The capacity glut in VLCCs is about 20 percent, the most since 1985, according to estimates by Sverre Bjorn Svenning, an analyst at the research unit of Astrup Fearnley Group, an Oslo-based shipping-services and investment-banking company.
Frontline said May 30 it may need to raise cash to repay $225 million of convertible bonds due in April 2015. The debt may be converted into equity at $36.5567 until the due date, compared with the company’s share price in New York of $2.01. The notes trade at about 51 cents on the dollar, Exane Paris prices on Bloomberg show.
India demolished 8.76 million tons of ships in 2011, with tankers accounting for 21 percent of the total, according to United Nations data. The remainder mostly comprised bulk carriers, container ships and passenger vessels. China handled 6.35 million tons of scrapping, Bangladesh 5.96 million tons and Pakistan 3.45 million tons.
“Demolition has been one of the big hopes as a catalyst for the tanker market recovering,” said London-based Marc Pauchet, a senior analyst at ACM Shipping. “To have such a weak rupee is profoundly unhelpful.”