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) -- With

oil prices

surging to multi-year highs amid the violent turmoil upending Libya, the smart money remains leery of oil-tanker stocks.

True, the going rates for Very Large Crude Carriers have shot higher in recent weeks (before sliding backward Wednesday), having last week surpassed $50,000 a day on the benchmark Middle East to Far East trade routes.

That's notable, since the market for supertankers has been soft for months, weakened by slow demand and increasing supply as an armada of newly constructed vessels slowly comes into service.

Meanwhile, tanker stocks have reacted with volatility to the news streaming from North Africa. Industry big-boy


(FRO) - Get Frontline Ltd. Report

, which reported disappointing earnings this week, trimming its quarterly dividend payout, has seen its share price range between $25 and $27.50 since the revolutionary spirit first overtook the region in Tunsia in early January.

Tanker stocks surged early in the Egyptian revolt when investors speculated on the

possibility of the Suez Canal closing.

Two big European oil companies -- Spain's


and Italy's

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-- suspended operations in Libya Tuesday but, so far, tanker loading disruptions in Libya, the world's 17th largest petroleum producer, haven't developed, according to one freight trader at a petroleum multinational based in the U.S.

He said that ships appear to be loading at Libya's ports, with no reports of violence at the terminals. Still, he warned, the flow of information has been sporadic. At one of the ports, ships appear to be stacked up and waiting to load, he said.

A report in the

Financial Times

Wednesday estimated that half of Libya's oil producion has come to a halt.

All that said, tanker-stock analysts and traders say that the Middle Eastern unrest -- unless it spreads to Saudi Arabia -- may not impact the shipping industry much at all.

"Should uncertainty remain we could see tanker rates push higher, which should benefit the stocks in the near term," wrote Greg Lewis, an equities analyst at Credit Suisse, in a recent research note. "However, the glut of new ships scheduled for delivery this year should push rates lower versus 2010. We remain cautious on tanker stocks."

Frontline shares were rising more than 4% Wednesday to $26.82. With the largest fleet of supertankers in the world, Frontline tends to trade alongside oil prices more than its peers. The theory there is that rising crude prices will induce OPEC to increase production, increasing demand for ships.

Elsewhere, tanker stocks were mixed.

Nordic American

(NAT) - Get Nordic American Tankers Limited Report

tanker was slipping 1% to $23.84,

Overseas Shipholding

(OSG) - Get Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc. Class A Report

was rising 2% to $35.02; and

General Maritime


, whose stock has been crushed over balance-sheet concerns, was falling 4% to $2.58.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York


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