For many of the markets covered by Shipping Intelligence Weekly, the first part of 2015 was relatively kind. Rates for crude and product tankers were riding high, boxship charter rates picked up for the first time in years and VLGC rates have hit levels above 2014 averages. Even Capesizes have recently shown signs of life. But spare a thought for the offshore sector, the hardest hit by the oil price decline.

Price Drop

Back in the downturn of 2008/09, most commodity and shipping markets felt the negative impact and the offshore markets were no exception, with dayrates dropping by an average of around 35% (see graph).  Moving forward to the current time, however, the 50% decline in oil prices since mid-2014 has brought some relief for merchant vessels, in the form of cheaper bunkers, and stimulated oil demand, helping trade. But cheaper oil has meanwhile put heavy pressure on the offshore sector, where field operators already faced cashflow problems as field developments ran late and over-budget. The response has been sharp cuts in exploration and production (E&P) budgets. It is estimated that spending on offshore E&P will fall by 19% this year.

Investment Cuts

This means investment decisions on new projects have been deferred, whilst expenditure to enhance recovery from existing fields has also slipped. Accordingly, drilling demand has fallen, just as deliveries of new jack-up and floating drilling rigs have accelerated. Rates for ultra-deepwater floaters are now almost 50% below their late 2013 peak, at around $300,000/day. This reflects the reduced demand in frontier areas for exploration and appraisal drilling, not helped by the corruption investigations in Brazil. Meanwhile, jack-up drilling rig rates have been equally hard hit, with shale gas production killing demand in one of their traditional major markets, the shallow water Gulf of Mexico. Utilisation of jack-ups is below 80%, and rates have fallen more than 35% to around $100,000/day.

Less Support For Vessels

This has had rapid knock-on consequences. The 5,365 vessels and 1,133 owners in the OSV market are also exposed to the downturn in exploration drilling and operational field maintenance. Fewer active rigs harms the AHTS market for rig towage and positioning, whilst PSVs rely on the growth in active offshore installations (drilling rigs, plus mobile and fixed production platforms) to add to demand. Rates for OSVs are down in all regions, by over 35% on average in terms of the index on the graph. PSVs have a further problem of a robust supply growth to contend with (and close to 40% of the fleet on order for the largest units over 4,000 dwt).

Of course, markets are cyclical, and the offshore sector had its moment in the sun during 2012/13, at a time when several of the merchant shipping markets were in the doldrums. Although the current oversupply in world oil markets of around 1.5m bpd is a clear short-term hurdle, projected demand trends suggest that higher oil prices remain a likely prospect in the long-term, and the improvement in other sectors suggests that there will eventually be light at the end of the tunnel for offshore too. It’s just that it could be a little way off yet. Have a nice day.