Back in April, the market for seaborne crude-oil transport looked so choppy that I asked whether tanker stocks were toast. Some weaker hands did indeed fold this year, but in May, we noted that Frontline (NYSE: FRO ) was built pretty tough.
Back then, my prediction was that Frontline "should at least be able to tread water" until the tanker storm passed. The company has done just that, at least judging by the share price. The stock is trading a bit higher today, while peers such as Tsakos Energy Navigation (NYSE: TNP ) and Teekay Tankers (NYSE: TNK ) have, uh, tanked.
Of course, the third quarter was still pretty rough for Frontline. June started out strong enough, with a "conviction buy" rating from Goldman Sachs on an improved outlook, but then rates turned back down as summer unfolded. By early September, tanker lease rates fell by 44% from those June head-fake levels.
With spot rates coming in below cash breakeven levels, Frontline unsurprisingly reported a loss for the quarter -- its first in seven years. That was quite a run, especially given that the tanker market hasn't exactly been sunshine and roses over that span of time. OSG (NYSE: OSG ) and Nordic American Tanker (NYSE: NAT ) also reported losses for the period.
Looking forward, we can see the usual mix of factors both supporting and weighing on the outlook for tanker operators. A major phase-out of single-hulled tankers will occur next year, as both the International Maritime Organization and many ports, including Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, plan to ban them. The order book for new tankers is still fairly robust, but there's a gap between the new-build cost and the bank financing available, so new supply may not overwhelm the market. Then, of course, there's oil demand, which is arguably still quite weak.
On balance, Frontline still appears to be fairly comfortably positioned, but I wouldn't necessarily look to add this stock to my portfolio's fleet today.