The all-time high U.S. crude oil exports have been pushing demand and rates for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) higher since the middle of February as American exports are attractive thanks to the wide Brent-WTI spread in recent weeks.
Rates for the supertankers, VLCCs, capable of carrying up to 2 million barrels of crude oil, have been rising since February 12 and the trend is set to continue at least this month and next, shipping sources tell S&P Global Platts.
The supertanker rates had reached on February 12 their lowest level since September 2018, but the high U.S. exports and the busy loading schedule at the U.S. Gulf Coast had already boosted VLCC freight rates on the USGC-China route by nearly 30 percent in early March, according to Platts data and shipping sources.
U.S. crude oil exports hit an all-time high of 3.607 million bpd in the week to February 15, and held close to that record level, at 3.359 million bpd, in the week ending February 22, according to the latest weekly crude exports data by the EIA.
According to vessel traffic data cited by Platts, so far this year a total of 48 supertankers have been booked for loading and departing from the U.S. Gulf Coast, which is five times higher than the number of VLCCs booked in the first two months of 2018.
Weekly U.S. crude oil exports vary, but the general trend month after month is higher, a shipowner told Platts.
“It’s a general trend, exports are now consistently above 2.5 million b/d and all things held equal I think each month will be bigger than the last month,” the source said.
The most recent record high U.S. exports were driven by the large spread between Brent Crudeand WTI Crude, which has been close to $9 a barrel for a large part of February, making American crudes attractive for buyers.
The U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela and OPEC’s cuts have been supporting Brent prices in recent weeks, while soaring U.S. production has been capping gains for WTI Crude.