African Oil Flows Seen Shifting to Asia as U.S. Imports Drop

Oil shipped to China from West Africa will rise again in 2013, hastening a shift in trade flows to Asia from the Atlantic region as U.S. crude imports fall further, according to Arctic Securities ASA.

China will boost imports of West African crude by 18 percent in 2013, above last year’s 16 percent gain, according to the Oslo-based investment bank. That will offset a predicted drop in U.S. seaborne imports, lifting global ton-mile demand for oil tankers by an estimated 3.4 percent even as the amount of crude carried at sea remains stable and the fleet expands, Arctic said. Ton-mile demand is gauged by multiplying cargo size and distance traveled.

“That is a pretty strong number, which will help balance out my expected supply growth of 3 percent, hence a marginal upturn in the market,” Arctic analyst Erik Nikolai Stavseth said in an e-mailed response to questions Jan. 3. U.S. seaborne oil imports will fall a further 200,000 barrels a day this year to 6.2 million barrels daily, he said.

Arctic’s calculations cover the three largest oil-tanker varieties, tallying 1,992 vessels. Very large crude carriers, each able to hold 2 million barrels, are the biggest oil-transporting ships.

Shipments of crude in tankers to China will rise 6 percent to 5.6 million barrels a day in 2013, according to the bank. Imports of Latin American oil will increase 12 percent, stronger than last year’s 8 percent, helping to reduce the country’s dependence on Persian Gulf crude to 52 percent of shipments from 58 percent in the prior year, Arctic estimated.

Continuing Change

“Crude flows from the Americas to Asia and West Africa to Asia on VLCCs have tracked up sharply by 40 percent, a shift we expect to continue as Arabian Gulf volumes are not enough to satisfy Asian thirst,” Arctic said in a Jan. 2 report.

U.S. imports of crude fell to 8.7 million barrels a day in 2012 from 8.9 million in the prior year, the lowest since 1998, according to data from Clarkson Plc, the world’s largest shipbroker. The figure includes oil shipped on tankers and over land via pipelines.

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