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(Bloomberg) -- The oil glut that wiped $1 trillion off the value of energy producers and roiled currencies is giving tanker owners a reason to be cheerful: Demand for their ships to store that excess is about to surge.
Oil traders could park as much crude offshore in the next few months as Denmark consumes every year, according to estimates from JBC Energy GmbH and BP Plc data. The International Energy Agency projects on-land storage tanks in industrialized countries may be full by June.
Oil collapsed by almost half since the middle of last year as members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries maintained output amid a global excess estimated by Qatar at 2 million barrels daily. The same surplus has also helped widen a price structure called contango, where future costs are so far above today’s that it rewards traders to buy cargoes now and sell them later.
“There’s bound to be broader inventory builds,” Jonathan Chappell, a shipping analyst in New York for Evercore Partners Inc., said by phone Jan. 6. That “will probably lead to some traders taking advantage of the contango.”
Brent crude oil for August traded at about $6 a barrel more than contracts for February so far this week, according to ICE Futures Europe exchange data. That’s around the level needed to cover hiring a tanker and all the associated costs, according to JBC, an adviser to some oil-producing countries.
Between 30 million barrels and 60 million barrels will be stored on tankers in the coming months, JBC predicted Jan. 6. Denmark consumed about 58 million barrels in 2013, according to the most recent estimates from BP.
“There’s a strong possibility that we will see floating storage at some point this year,” Svetlana Kourmpeti, a London- based senior market analyst at E.A. Gibson Shipbrokers Ltd., said by phone Jan. 5. “The contango is getting steeper.”
When the market is in contango, a cargo can be bought and placed in storage, with a higher sale price locked in on the futures market. In 2009, 100 million barrels of crude were being held at sea, enough to supply Europe for five days, Frontline Ltd., a ship owner, estimated at the time. BP Plc’s earnings were about $500 million more than expected in the first quarter of that year thanks to the trade.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, has been in contango since July.
Traders and governments are stocking up. As many as 297 million barrels, equivalent to half a year of Angolan supplies, could be added to inventories by June, according to the IEA in Paris. Inventories could reach storage capacity within Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries by midyear, the IEA estimated Dec. 12. Record numbers of VLCCs were seen sailing to China in December, amid what the IEA said were signs the country was adding to its stockpile. Land-based storage outside the U.S. is “getting pretty full” and not all traders have access to these tanks, Richard Mallinson, a geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects in London, said by phone Jan. 7. Floating facilities may become more attractive in the first half of the year if seasonal weakening of oil demand causes the contango to steepen, he said.
High shipping rates may keep the trade from becoming profitable, according to Petromatrix, a Zug, Switzerland-based researcher. When floating storage peaked in 2009, freight rates had fallen to 82 cents a barrel on the benchmark Persian Gulf- to-Japan route, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Demand for oil tankers is stronger today, with per-barrel freight costs at $2.22.
“The front contango in Brent is increasing, but VLCC freight is currently very expensive,” Petromatrix wrote in a report on Jan. 7. “We are therefore not convinced that floating storage is today a better option.”
The combined value of global oil and gas stocks fell from $4 trillion in June to about $3 trillion currently as the crude price slumped, according to Bloomberg data. Russia, the world’s largest energy exporter, saw its currency slump 46 percent against the dollar in 2014 while the dollar had its best year since at least 2005, gaining against all 31 major peers.
Rates for VLCCs, the largest tankers, will average $35,000 a day this year according to the average of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. That would be the highest since 2010, data from shipbroker Clarkson Plc show. An increase in seaborne storage might push rates even higher, Erik Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities ASA in Oslo, said by phone on Jan. 6.
“It’s looking increasingly attractive,” he said. “Floating storage is going to happen in the first quarter.”
--With assistance from Sherry Su in London.
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