Despite a rebound in oil prices over the last few years, tanker stocks have been terrible performers on the stock market. Frontline (NYSE: FRO ) , Nordic American Tankers (NYSE: NAT ) , and Teekay Tankers (NYSE: TNK ) are all down at least 47% in the last five years and Frontline has fallen into the abyss with an 85% drop.
But this isn't just a matter of companies falling out of favor with the market. Tankers are in much less demand as U.S. oil production has increased and their financial performance only seems to be getting worse.
Losing money hand over fist
You can see below that Frontline, Nordic American Tankers, and Teekay have all seen losses for over two years and conditions don't look to be improving quickly.
U.S. energy imports are down to 34% of consumption, off from 60.3% in 2005 and 40% just last year. That reduces the demand for tankers and the only way to replace it is hope that demand from India and China replaces the lost demand from the U.S. That's a stretch given the amount of oil available close to those countries.
Pipelines replace tankers worldwide
It may be surprising to find out that Russia is actually the world's largest oil producer and it's a direct neighbor to China, who is a major oil importer. Russia recently signed a deal that will send 200,000 barrels of oil per day to China's Sinopec Group. This is part of Russia's goal to export more than 1 million barrels of oil per day to China. There's also an abundance of natural gas coming over the boarder, boosted by the recent completion of the Myanmar-China pipeline.
Then there's the fact that the Middle East is simply a shorter trip to China and India than the U.S. and you have lower demand for tanker services. An already oversupplied market is only going to get worse over the next few years.
Foolish bottom line
Frontline's John Fredricksen may have had it right in September when he suggested competitors should shut down capacity. The problem is that no one is going to take him up on the offer.
Long term, I think the trends are simply working against the tanker business and financial results will continue to suffer. We may see a rebound in rates here and there but demand is slowly drying up and that's why this is an industry to avoid in 2014.
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