SINGAPORE, April 17 (Reuters) – Rates for very large crude carriers (VLCCs) on key Asian routes are likely to hold steady or climb next week if charterers release their May fixture programme amid tighter supply of tonnage, brokers said.
“Owners are very bullish. They have managed to hold the line even without any real cargo,” said a Singapore-based VLCC broker on Friday.
Charterers were generally holding back the release of May cargoes, although the National Shipping Co of Saudi Arabia (Bahri) and China’s Unipec were active this week, according to ship brokers and Reuters chartering data.
The broker said rates may gain if charterers release those cargoes on Monday or Tuesday.
“If they hold back until Wednesday rates may dip,” he said.
A rival VLCC ship broker agreed charterers were holding back their fixture programme from the Middle East to Asia, but added that available tonnage was looking tight for quality vessels.
“We can’t see the market going down presently,” the second broker said. Rates are in a holding pattern, he added.
Rates from West Africa to Asia also remained strong following a surge in chartering activity. At least 10 eastbound fixtures have been reported since April 10, compared with seven the previous week, Reuters freight data showed.
That came after Indian and Taiwanese buyers lifted more oil from West Africa after Saudi Arabia ended discounts and raised some prices, ship brokers said.
“West Africa is really propping up the market – it has meant the tonnage list has stayed tight for the Middle East,” the first VLCC broker said.
“Owners (are) watching carefully for any early starts of the May programme, which could propel the already firm sentiment,” a Norwegian ship broker said in a weekly note on Wednesday.
VLCC rates for the benchmark route from the Middle East to Japan climbed to around W62.5 on the Worldscale measure on Thursday, up from W59.5 last week, and the highest since Feb. 13.
Supertanker rates from West Africa to China climbed to W61.5 on Thursday, against W60.5 a week earlier.
Rates for 80,000-tonne Aframax tankers from Southeast Asia to East Coast Australia slipped to around W97.5 on Thursday, compared with W99 last week.
Clean tanker rates from Singapore to Japan were unchanged at around W140 on Thursday, but they could rise on the back of increased chartering activity, a Singapore clean tanker broker said.
Rates are likely to plateau or move sideways next week, the broker said. (Reporting by Keith Wallis; Editing by Joseph Radford)
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