December could boast another all-time high for US seaborne crude oil exports, totalling 13.9 million tonnes and exceeding the previous October record by almost a million tonnes. In 2019, 133m tonnes of sweet US crude oil was exported by sea, a 51% increase from 2018.
Due to the US shale revolution, the country became a net seaborne crude oil exporter in October 2019, and the record-breaking exports in December solidified the trend, as imports for the month amounted to 11.5m tonnes crude oil. BIMCO expects the US to become a net seaborne crude oil exporter on an annual basis for the first time in 2020.
Asia and Europe remained the largest import regions of US crude in December, accounting for 38% and 41% respectively. The long-haul trips to Asia, with South Korea as the largest regional US crude importer, generate a positive tonne-mile upside for the crude oil tanker market.
Under the first phase of the US-China trade agreement, China has pledged to buy an additional USD 52.4 billion worth of US energy goods, spread out over a two-year period. BIMCO expects at least half of the extra energy purchases to be crude oil. The long-haul nature of the US-China trade provides a net positive for the oil tanker segment, but it remains to be seen whether the deal will result in the creation of new trade or merely serve as a diversion of existing trade flows.
Source: BIMCO, Peter Sand, Chief Shipping Analyst