Shipping is a curious industry. It is a marketplace where massive deals concerning the movement of millions of barrels of oil on behemoth ships can be made over a third pint of Peroni at the local pub. Entertaining clients can be just as important as providing them with a great service.
It is a small world, where faces are remembered, grudges are engraved in stone and favors are easily called upon. It is personal and as such it requires you to wear your best “game face” at all times. And every two years, you can give your trusty business mask the ultimate test at the biggest and fanciest shipping masquerade – Posidonia week in sunny Athens.
“Posidonia” has become a special word for shipping people over the years and for good reason. It is a massive event, with two sides to it.
The first is a biennial international shipping exhibition, which started back in 1969 under the patronage of Greek shipowners and has grown dramatically since. This year it attracted 22,000 people with 1,800 exhibitors from 90 countries.
The other side is the fancy late night parties, mostly concentrated in the seaside town of Vouliagmeni, just south of Athens, which is perfect for this as it boasts amazing, sleek venues and locales.
Suited, booted, armed with business cards and aspirin, thousands of shipping professionals from around the globe attend these parties. They throw back a few drinks, shake some hands, slap some backs and, quoting Jay Z, re-introduce themselves. And that is where the game face masks really come into play.
When you navigate through a busy 5-star hotel seaside terrace splashed in the evening sun, you can see the masquerade in all its glory.
Here are some shipbrokers, usually wearing the faces of wolves and foxes. They emit an image of vigor, cunning and confidence, all the things that clients would expect from their brokers. You can usually find them in groups around their principals, like chartering managers from oil majors, commodity trading houses or shipowner companies.
Principals themselves are often comfortable under the masks of bears and lions. Powerful, somewhat calm and, well, important.
However, if you get to know these people, ask them the right questions, you may sometimes see the strain, gritted teeth, nervous eyes and sad smiles beneath the masks.
Some of that is usual stuff. Like a young broker, who has to switch his markets along with changes in the company, losing some accounts that he worked so hard for, unsure if he has enough energy to do it all over again.
Or an owner’s freight trader, who recently missed a big spike in his market, costing his company a few million dollars and under his bear mask hiding the fear that he cannot afford any more mistakes.
Another shipbroker, who after getting a big principal’s job suddenly found that people who wouldn’t shake his hand before are now throwing rose petals at his feet, standing in line to be his new best friend.
Even a charterer, who understands that shipbrokers that treat him like a king, send him cases of wine, get him the best football game seats, still make much more money than he does and would never call him again if he left the industry.
Still, some things were unique at Posidonia 2016. There is a lot of pain and uncertainty in the shipping market. The dry bulk sector in particular is going through probably its worst depression in three decades.
The oversupply of tonnage and limping commodity demand are steadily squeezing the life out of it. So, it is often hard for shipowners involved in this business to stay positive or come up with good reasons for optimism as there are so few to be found.
That’s why, leaning on a bar, in a sea of wolves and foxes, some of them can’t help but wonder if they will have this job in two years’ time when the next Posidonia event comes along.
Yes, there is a view that the situation may get better by then as the investment in tonnage goes down, giving hope to slowing vessel supply, but such opinions have often been wrong before.
Things are not so rosy in tankers either. The crude oil glut that made this market a superstar in 2014 and 2015 is shrinking. At the same time, there is a flotilla of newbuilding vessels due to hit the water in the next two years, boosting supply and thus pressuring freight rates down again.
And all this reflects on Posidonia guests too.
As veterans of the event told me, there were far fewer parties this year where the bar would be open past midnight. Many of the guests, including some top brokers, shipowners and charterers had to share rooms in order to afford staying at the top Vouliagmeni hotels where all the action was.
However, the beauty of shipping is that despite downturns, troubles and bad omens, the show still goes on. Simply because there are so many truly dedicated people who love, live and breathe this business.
That’s why I could see so many of them at the Posidonia parties, taking a step away from a bar to send that charterparty from their smartphone, share a rumor on a fixture they just heard from a client or just check their stem programs or position lists. For them, a game face mask is second skin, even if the makeup may be flaking sometimes.
And so there I was too, on a Thursday night, at the final big party of this over-the-top Posidonia week. With some effort I squeezed through a thick crowd of men in suits and ladies in fancy cocktail dresses.
The gorgeous Balux Café in Vouliagmeni is so packed that it required precise powers of agility not to spill my gin and tonic over someone’s tie or to inadvertently shove a fellow guest into a massive seaside pool.
I finally make it to the other side in an attempt to cool off in the warm Mediterranean breeze. I am out of business cards, my meeting schedule is complete and my plane leaves for London tomorrow.
And as I finally relaxed and took a final sip, I could feel the mask slipping from my own face.
By Alex Younevitch, Managing editor
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The Permian is in desperate need of pipelines. That much is true. There is so much shale liquids sloshing underneath the Permian formation in Texas and New Mexico, that even though it has already upended global crude market and turned the USA into the world’s largest crude producer, there is still so much of it trapped inland, unable to make the 800km journey to the Gulf Coast that would take them to the big wider world.
The stakes are high. Even though the US is poised to reach some 12 mmb/d of crude oil production next year – more than half of that coming from shale oil formations – it could be producing a lot more. This has already caused the Brent-WTI spread to widen to a constant US$10/b since mid-2018 – when the Permian’s pipeline bottlenecks first became critical – from an average of US$4/b prior to that. It is even more dramatic in the Permian itself, where crude is selling at a US$10-16/b discount to Houston WTI, with trends pointing to the spread going as wide as US$20/b soon. Estimates suggest that a record 3,722 wells were drilled in the Permian this year but never opened because the oil could not be brought to market. This is part of the reason why the US active rig count hasn’t increased as much as would have been expected when crude prices were trending towards US$80/b – there’s no point in drilling if you can’t sell.
Assistance is on the way. Between now and 2020, estimates suggest that some 2.6 mmb/d of pipeline capacity across several projects will come onstream, with an additional 1 mmb/d in the planning stages. Add this to the existing 3.1 mmb/d of takeaway capacity (and 300,000 b/d of local refining) and Permian shale oil output currently dammed away by a wall of fixed capacity could double in size when freed to make it to market.
And more pipelines keep getting announced. In the last two weeks, Jupiter Energy Group announced a 90-day open season seeking binding commitments for a planned 1 mmb/d, 1050km long Jupiter Pipeline – which could connect the Permian to all three of Texas’ deepwater ports, Houston, Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Plains All American is launching its 500,000 b/d Sunrise Pipeline, connecting the Permian to Cushing, Oklahoma. Wolf Midstream has also launched an open season, seeking interest for its 120,000 b/d Red Wolf Crude Connector branch, connecting to its existing terminal and infrastructure in Colorado City.
Current estimates suggest that Permian output numbered around 3.5 mmb/d in October. At maximum capacity, that’s still about 100,000 b/d of shale oil trapped inland. As planned pipelines come online over the next two years, that trickle could turn into a flood. Consider this. Even at the current maxing out of Permian infrastructure, the US is already on the cusp on 12 mmb/d crude production. By 2021, it could go as high as 15 mmb/d – crude prices, permitting, of course.
As recently reported in the WSJ; “For years, the companies behind the U.S. oil-and-gas boom, including Noble Energy Inc. and Whiting Petroleum Corp. have promised shareholders they have thousands of prospective wells they can drill profitably even at $40 a barrel. Some have even said they can generate returns on investment of 30%. But most shale drillers haven’t made much, if any, money at those prices. From 2012 to 2017, the 30 biggest shale producers lost more than $50 billion. Last year, when oil prices averaged about $50 a barrel, the group as a whole was barely in the black, with profits of about $1.7 billion, or roughly 1.3% of revenue, according to FactSet.”
The immense growth experienced in the Permian has consequences for the entire oil supply chain, from refining balances – shale oil is more suitable for lighter ends like gasoline, but the world is heading for a gasoline glut and is more interested in cracking gasoil for the IMO’s strict marine fuels sulphur levels coming up in 2020 – to geopolitics, by diminishing OPEC’s power and particularly Saudi Arabia’s role as a swing producer. For now, the walls keeping a Permian flood in are still standing. In two years, they won’t, with new pipeline infrastructure in place. And so the oil world has two years to prepare for the coming tsunami, but only if crude prices stay on course.
Recent Announced Permian Pipeline Projects
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 3 December 2018 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
The engine oil market has grown up around 10 to 12% in the last three years because of various reasons, mostly because of the rise of automobiles.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the number of registered petrol and diesel-powered vehicles is 3,663,189 units.
The number of automotive vehicles has increased by 2.5 times in the last eight years.
The demand for engine oils will rise keeping pace with the increasing automotive vehicles, with an expected 3% yearly growths.
Mostly, for this reason, the annual lubricant consumption raised over 14% growth for the last four years. Now its current demand is around 160 million tonnes.
The overall lubricants demand has increased also for the growth of the power sector, which has created a special market for industrial lubricants oil.
The lubricants oil market size for industries has doubled in the last five years due to the establishment of a number of power plants across the country.
The demand for industrial oil will continue to rise at least for the next 15 years, as the quick rental power plants need a huge quantity of lube oil to run.
The industries account for 30% of the total lubricant consumption; however, it is expected to take over 35% of the overall demand in the next 10 years.
Mobil is the market leader with 27% market share; however, market insiders say that around 70% market shares belong to various brands altogether, which is still undefined.
It is already flooded with many global and local brands.