• Acceleration in bookings to China cited as reason for gain
  • Owners also being helped as falling oil price cuts fuel costs

The world’s biggest crude oil tankers earned more than $100,000 a day for the first time since 2008, amid speculation that a surge in Chinese bookings is curbing the number that are left available for charter.

Ships hauling 2 million barrel cargoes of Saudi Arabian crude to Japan, a benchmark route, earned $104,256 a day, a level last seen in July 2008, according to data on Friday from the Baltic Exchange in London. The rate was a 13 percent gain from Thursday.

Bookings by Chinese oil companies surged this week to collect oil from regions including the Middle East and West Africa, the world’s biggest loading areas, according to George Los, a New York-based analyst at shipbroker Charles R. Weber Co. The Asian country imported 26.6 million metric tons of crude in August, 5.6 percent more than a year earlier, according to customs data.

"China was particularly more active in the market with a record number of fixtures this week from all areas,” said Los. “I hadn’t expected that and it came as a surprise,” he said, adding that it may be difficult for rates to rise much higher.

This is the highest rates have been since 2008. There is speculation that a jump in bookings from China is depleting ship supply.
This is the highest rates have been since 2008. There is speculation that a jump in bookings from China is depleting ship supply.

A global glut drove down crude oil prices by about 50 percent from their 2014 peak, lowering fuel prices that constitute an owner’s single-biggest cost, while also keeping a plentiful supply of cargoes for owners.

Part of the increase in the past few days has been because of a growth in the number of charters for shipment to China from West Africa for loading later this month or early next, said Charles Rupinski, an analyst at Seaport Global Securities LLC in New York.

Shipments between West Africa and Asia help tanker owners because of the distance involved in the trade route. Cargoes take about 33 days to deliver, around one-and-a-half times longer than for deliveries from the Middle East, according to data from Axsmarine.com.

“There are just not enough ships in position,” said Nigel Prentis, the head of consultancy at Hartland Shipping Services Ltd. in London. “There’s been quite an active West Africa market.”

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