Record oil tankers seen sailing to China amid stockpiling signs

The number of supertankers sailing to China jumped to a record in ship-tracking data amid signs that the oil-price crash is spurring the Asian nation to stockpile.

There are 83 very large crude carriers bound for Chinese ports, according to shipping signals from IHS Maritime, compiled by Bloomberg at about 8:30 a.m. on Friday in London. The ships would transport 166 million barrels, assuming standard cargoes, the largest number in data starting in October 2011. The cost of hiring the vessels surged to the highest in almost five years, according to Baltic Exchange data.

The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based adviser to 29 nations, said in a report today that China may have added to strategic crude stockpiles last month, after pausing the activity in October. Oil plunged into a bear market this year, with Saudi Arabia and other nations in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries offering few signs they will tackle a global glut.

“We see cargoes being picked up to be put into storage in China predominantly,” Erik Folkeson, a shipping analyst at Stockholm-based Swedbank AB, said by phone today. “The steep reduction in crude prices and continued output of crude has, in my view, triggered stock building.”

Daily shipping rates on the tanker industry’s benchmark trade route from the Middle East to Asia jumped to $81,499 yesterday, the highest since January 2010, Baltic Exchange data show. Swaps on the route, used for hedging freight costs, indicate earnings this month will average $77,907.

Crude slumped in London and New York on Friday after the IEA cut global demand estimates for 2015, citing weakening economies in Russia and other producer nations. Brent slid as much as 1.5 percent to $62.75 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe Exchange. West Texas Intermediate slid as much as 1.9 percent on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Both are both down by about 40 percent this year. 

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