It's been a long year for oil transporters. The tanker business has been hit by falling imports in the United States, unrest in the Middle East, and a supply glut in its own industry.
But Bloomberg has reported another bad sign as one ship owner has taken a tanker straight from the shipyard to out of commission. In a process that is called a warm (or hot) lay-up, the owner is bringing the ship to a harbor in Malaysia, where it will sit idle to save costs. A cold lay-up can put a tanker out of commission for months or even years, but the warm lay-up is meant to last for a few months.
With owners such as Nordic American Tankers (NYSE: NAT ) , Overseas Shipholding Group (NYSE: OSG ) , Teekay (NYSE: TK ) , and Frontline (NYSE: FRO ) all hovering round 52-week lows, this is another bad sign for the industry. Just last month, BW Maritime refused cargo because rates were so low for shipping oil. This is just another desperate move for an industry in rough shape.
And the trends don't appear to be getting any better. U.S. oil imports are falling, and the country has begun relying more on Canada than on the Middle East or South America for oil. As the biggest user of oil in the world, that's a huge source of demand for oil tankers. With demand falling, the industry is still building tankers at an alarming rate.
On the supply side, according to Fearnresearch, the oil tanker fleet grew by 6.1% in 2010 and the order book could add 11.2% to the fleet in 2011 and 8.7% in 2012. That doesn't bode well for the future as tanker companies fight for a smaller chunk of business.
Some of these stocks may look attractive based on high dividend rates, but the underlying business is crumbling beneath them. I wouldn't touch oil shippers with a 10-foot pole at this point, as the industry's overall fundamentals are only getting worse.
I'll even back it up by giving all four of these companies a red thumb on My CAPS page. Check out my other CAPS picks.
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