Teekay Tankers (NYSE:TNK) CEO Bruce Chan recently announced his intention to resign on June 20, 2014.
While it is unclear who will succeed Mr. Chan as CEO, the company's stock rallied significantly after the news. The market reaction to the event is good news for Teekay Tanker shareholders, who have seen the oil tanker sector go through some rough seas in one of the greatest bull markets in recent memory.
The oil tanker sector, which includes shippers like Frontline Ltd. (NYSE:FRO) and Nordic American Tanker Limited (NYSE:NAT), has faced stiff headwinds as a variety of negative factors reduce demand.
Because of the shale revolution, the United States is now producing more crude oil than it is importing.
According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. crude oil production recently averaged 7.7 million barrels per day versus 7.6 million barrels per day imported.
The total net petroleum imports were the lowest since 1991.
The trend is unlikely to reverse anytime soon. The Energy Information Administration projects that U.S crude production will be around 9.6 million barrels per day in 2019 from around 7.7 million today.
With American demand decreasing due to higher vehicle fuel standards and increasing domestic production, the oil tanker sector's fortunes increasingly depend on China, which has a population of 1.3 billion people and a motor vehicle per thousand people ratio of only 58.
The Chinese economy, unfortunately, has recently slowed as bad loans come due and credit fears rise.
The distance between the Middle East, where a significant percentage of oil is exported, and China is also significantly shorter than the distance between the Middle East and United States. The shorter distance causes oil tankers to see less demand even though they are transporting the same amount of crude oil.
The bottom line
Long term, the shale revolution has yet to spread to other nations. Europe may be a half a decade away, and China is probably a decade away. When those countries can tap into their own resources, oil tankers will see less demand.
Short term, I think the tanker stocks are a levered bet on the Chinese economy. If the Chinese economy starts recovering or the Chinese government adds more stimulus, oil tanker stocks are likely to rally on sentiment alone. China is now the world's largest auto market. Almost 22 million vehicles were sold in 2013, and most analysts believe that the Chinese vehicle market will see double-digit growth this year.
The health of China's economy is the key metric in terms of where the future demand for oil tanker shippers will come from. With the Shanghai composite still near multi-year lows, it remains to be seen whether the Chinese economy will make a comeback any time soon.
The retirement of CEO Bruce Chan won't change the fortunes of Teekay Tankers in the short term. Given that it is unclear who the new CEO will be, the event is not really a cause for optimism. Teekay Tanker's stock, however, has had positive momentum recently and could continue to do so in a bull market.