The current ownership of Euronav, one of the biggest tanker shipping businesses in the world, brings to mind a hasty, tragic wedding.
John Fredriksen, a shipping magnate, and his business Frontline own 26% of Euronav and are committed to expanding their presence in the tanker market via consolidation. CMB, owned by the Saverys family, has 23% of Euronav and plans to develop decarbonization technologies and expand Euronav into new maritime markets.
Hugo De Stoop, the former CEO of Euronav, made an attempt to serve as a de facto marriage counselor to this odd couple until his resignation in May. According to Euronav, the situation has evolved into a strategic and structural deadlock, and divorce papers are currently being written up.
Frontline has confirmed in a separate statement that the discussions are well advanced.
Another shipowner heads for Wall Street exit
CMB intends to acquire the Euronav stakes owned by Frontline and Fredriksen at a price of $18.43 per share. Following this, there will be a mandatory public offer at the same price for all other minority Euronav shareholders.
According to Jefferies analyst Omar Nokta, it is expected that Euronav will eventually be taken private, unless the minorities hold out.
Stifel analyst Ben Nolan states that, in his opinion, the chances of the company being taken private are currently estimated to be over 75%.
If this were to happen, Euronav would follow the likes of Atlas (Seaspan), GasLog Partners, GasLog Ltd., Hoegh LNG Partners, Teekay LNG, Teekay Offshore, and Seacor in leaving the NYSE.
Frontline poised to buy 24 Euronav VLCCs
Nokta anticipates that Fredriksen will sell his privately held Euronav shares to Frontline, with the public tanker firm receiving around $1 billion in profits from the sale of Euronav shares.
Frontline announced that it will acquire 24 VLCCs from Euronav using revenues from the sale of Euronav shares and long-term debt, for a total purchase price of $2.35 billion (or an average of $98 million per VLCC).
If the purchase goes through, Frontline will become the biggest publicly listed tanker owner in the world.
Pareto Securities Head of Research Eirik Haavaldsen states that Frontline is significantly increasing the stakes and risks, surpassing all publicly listed tanker competition. The absence of Euronav from the stock exchanges will lead to increased trading liquidity in Frontline shares, which will in turn facilitate further NAV premiums.
There are 19.5 million tons in the DWT fleet (currently at 98% of DWT’s deadweight capacity). It would contain 18 LR2s and/or Aframaxes, each with a capacity of 110,000 DWT (these vessels may transport either crude or refined goods), and 46 VLCCs, each with a capacity of roughly 300,000 DWT.
On Thursday, after hearing about the suggested bid price, Euronav shares rose by 17%. The trading volume was nearly nine times the typical level. Frontline’s shares surged 8% in nearly quadruple typical volume.
Only 2 new VLCCs in 2024-2025
Crude oil is transported by VLCCs in high-volume, long-distance transactions, such as those between the Middle East and Asia and the United States Gulf and Asia. If the deal goes through, Frontline will have twice as much exposure to the VLCC market.
From the point of view of vessel supply, the timing is perfect.
In a research note on Monday, Evercore ISI analyst Jon Chappell stated that the current on-the-water VLCC fleet consists of 906 vessels. However, the delivery schedule for 2024 only includes one new ship to be added to the fleet, and the 2025 schedule also indicates the addition of just one new ship.
History suggests that fleet growth of under 1%, specifically 0.1% in consecutive years, has an impact on rates. The lack of insight is due to the unprecedentedly low number of new deliveries to a major asset class in the past two years. History shows that during previous periods of limited new capacity additions, tanker spot rates have tended to increase.
Current situation and future outlook of the tanker shipping industry
The record-low outlook for incremental capacity in the coming years suggests that spot rates will either have an elevated floor or potentially experience persistent strength.
The elasticity of demand is greater than that of supply, and it is evident that there are risks associated with this, including the possibility of an upcoming recession. The tanker market has already experienced significant demand reduction due to the OPEC+ production cuts, but it is still generating cash flow at favorable rates.
If there is no demand collapse, it will be necessary to reopen the taps due to diminishing inventories and high oil prices. However, there will be a shortage of new ships available to transport those cargoes. Chappell said, “The set-up is good for VLCC utilization and very good for VLCC spot rates.”
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