A Huge Number of Oil Supertankers Are Pointing at China’s Ports

Is China piling into the crude oil market again? A snapshot of where the world’s supertankers are headed suggests it may well be.

The number the vessels sailing toward the shores of world’s largest importer jumped to a six-month high of 127 on Friday. Fully laden, they would deliver in excess of 250 million barrels. The last time the number was higher was in the aftermath of oil’s plunge below zero, when China binged on ultra-cheap crude to bolster domestic stockpiles.

A Huge Number of Oil Supertankers Are Pointing at China’s Ports

An increase in shipments would chime with signs of optimism over the health of demand in the country. Royal Dutch Shell Plc Chief Executive Officer Ben Van Beurden said this week that fuel sales in the China are back into “significant growth mode.” That’s despite concerns that the coronavirus will limit travel driving the Lunar New Year period.

While last time round it was cheap crude that helped spur the surge in Chinese consumption, this time a collapse in freight is proving helpful. The cost of hiring supertankers fell to its lowest level since at least 2017 on Friday, effectively meaning owners are subsidizing the transport of cargoes from Asia to the Middle East.

There would be good reason for China to be buying more too. Inventories in most parts of the globe are now falling. One snapshot of the nation’s stockpiles -- the volumes of crude stored that are linked to the Shanghai oil futures contract -- fell to its lowest level since June, according to data analytics company OilX. Observers including Kayrros have also noted declines in recent weeks.

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