ow Coronavirus Crisis Affects Tanker Shipping And Stocks
BenzingaJanuary 30, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak centered in China continues to worsen. Over 7,800 cases have been reported — already exceeding the 2002-03 SARS outbreak — and over 170 people have died.
Fallout for crude-tanker shipping and public equities took center stage on the quarterly conference call of tanker major Euronav (NYSE: EURN). While the comments on the call were about crude tankers, almost all of them could apply to all modes of shipping.
"This is bad news," said Euronav CEO Hugo De Stoop. "Let's not pretend it's anything but bad news. The impact is definitely uncertain, but in the short term, it's negative. In the long term, everybody is convinced it will be contained, so you want measures to be as strong as possible now so the virus is contained as quickly as possible," he said.
As previously reported by FreightWaves, the sweeping shutdown of land and air transportation within China and to and from the country will weigh heavily on near-term oil demand given the outsize role China has in global consumption.
Another negative for tanker demand: OPEC is expected to extend production cuts in response to the coronavirus-induced plunge in oil prices.
According to De Stoop, "If we look at other terrible viruses that have spread in the past, what we know for sure is that once they are contained and things go back to normal, they don't go back to normal. There's huge stimulus, usually by China but also by other economies, to try to get back a bit of what has been lost during the [epidemic] period.
"So, if you predict that it may take a few months [before the virus is contained], what you will have is a fantastic first quarter — no matter what happens for the rest of the quarter, it will be a great first quarter — then you have summer, which is never the period we count on, and then the chances are we will be back in winter with a super-strong market, so it should be a great year," he said.
When reporting fourth-quarter results on Thursday, Jan. 30, Euronav disclosed that it had booked 60% of available days for the first quarter for its very large crude carriers (VLCCs, tankers that carry 2 million barrels of crude oil) at an extremely high rate of $89,200 per day, and 51% of available days for its Suezmaxes (tankers that carry 1 million barrels) at $57,500 per day.
In the crude-tanker business, almost all bookings for a particular quarter are done in the prior quarter or the early part of the current quarter. Tanker rates were extremely high in the fourth quarter and first few weeks of 2020.
What De Stoop is saying is that full-year 2020 results should be strong based on exceptional first and fourth quarters (the fourth assuming the virus is contained), even if the coronavirus and seasonality hit the second and third.
The coronavirus is hitting shipping stocks, including tanker stocks, even more severely than the broader market. Strong fundamentals, exceptional quarterly returns, incremental volumes driven by the new marine-fuel rules — all of those positives are now being erased in the stock market by coronavirus fears.
Euronav is a prime example. It reported net income $160.8 million for the fourth quarter of 2019, up from just $279,000 in the same period the year before. Earnings per share of $0.70 easily topped the consensus forecast for $0.63 per share. Its VLCCs averaged $61,700 per day in the spot market in the most recent quarter, and its Suezmaxes $35,700 per day. These rates, which De Stoop dubbed "remarkable," were the highest since 2008, before the financial crisis.
And yet, Euronav's share price was down 4% in the double the average trading volume on the day its results were announced (in mid-day trading, it was down 7%).
"In the first 10 days of January, we were finally getting our share price above NAV [net asset value], which is always our objective," De Stoop said. "Obviously, we are not happy at all with our share price at the moment." Investment bank Jefferies estimated that Euronav's stock is now trading at a 24% discount to NAV.
De stoop argued that the share decline creates "a fantastic entry point in tanker shipping companies. With Euronav, you have a guarantee to be paid with the dividends, and if that upside [following virus containment] doesn't come as quickly as I just expressed, you are in a company with a super-strong balance sheet that can weather any storm. So yes, this [virus] is terrible news. It's completely unexpected. But quite frankly, if I was an investor and I was attracted by this sector, I know where I would put my money."
Asked whether the balance could shift toward more time charters as opposed to spot voyage contracts, De Stoop again brought up the coronavirus.
"The volume of time charters in the market is very thin. There have been even fewer opportunities in the last three to four months simply because the market has been extremely volatile. It was quickly going to $100,000 a day and then suddenly there was a massive drop [to around $45,000 a day]. So, everybody is looking each other in the eyes, and thinking on one side [a proposed time-charter rate] is too high and the other side saying it's too low.
"We need to see a little bit more stability. And I think that because of the events affecting the market at this moment — and we spoke about the virus— it's just too unpredictable for people to start signing long-term contracts," he said.