“I’ve been coming to Singapore once a year for the last 15 years, and flying in I have never seen the waters so full of idle tankers,”
– Senior European oil trader a day after arriving in the city-state.
Back in November, when the world-record crude inventory glut was still in its early innings, we showed what we then thought was a disturbing image of dozens of oil tankers on anchor near the US oil hub of Galveston, TX, unwilling to unload their cargo at what the owners of the oil thought was too low prices.
Little did we know that just a few months later this seemingly unprecedented sight of clustered VLCCs would be a daily occurrence as oil producers, concerned by Cushing hitting its operating capacity, would take advantage of oil curve contango to store their oil offshore indefinitely.
However, while the “parking lot” off Galveston has since normalized, something shocking has emerged and continued to grow half way around the world, just off the coat of Singapore. This.
The red dots show ships either at anchor or barely moving, either oil tankers or cargo, which have made the Straits of Malacca, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes which carries about a quarter of all seaborne oil primarily from the Persian Gulf headed to China, into a “bumper to bumper” parking lots of ships with tens of millions of barrels in combustible cargo.
it is also the topic of the latest Reuters expose on the historic physical crude oil glut which continues to build behind the scenes, and which so far has proven totally immune to dissipation as a result of the sharp increase in oil prices over the past three months.
Indeed, as Reuters notes, prices for oil futures have jumped by almost a quarter since April, lifted by severe supply disruptions caused by triggers such as Canadian wildfires, acts of sabotage in Nigeria, and civil war in Libya. And yet flying into Singapore, the oil trading hub for the world’s biggest consumer region, Asia, reveals another picture: that a global glut that pulled down prices by over 70 percent between 2014 and early 2016 is nowhere near over, and that financial traders betting on higher crude oil futures may be in for a surprise from the physical market.
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