On a rare conference call this month, Herbjorn Hansson was more than happy to talk up the prospects of Nordic American Tankers (NAT).

And why not?

The suezmax specialist posted a $36m profit for the fourth quarter and — after trailing its competitors for some time — is back in the thick of the highest-earning publicly traded fleets.

“I don’t think I have seen a better condition than now,” Hansson said on the call on 7 March.

“I have only been in the business for 50 years and I am committed to continuing in this business for a long time to go. But at this time, the conditions are excellent.”

For the last three months of 2022, the company fixed its suezmax fleet at an average time charter equivalent rate of $57,340 per day — a 105% jump from $27,850 per day in the third quarter.

Both figures trailed their competitors: NAT’s third-quarter figure was substantially lower than Euronav ($34,000 per day), International Seaways ($34,200 per day) and Frontline ($41,100 per day).

In the fourth quarter, the margin was winnowed, but NAT’s fleet still came in last, behind International Seaways’ $59,064 per day, Frontline’s $57,900 per day and Euronav’s $57,800 per day.

However, rates in the first quarter have risen to match its New York-listed competitors.

The company said its 19-ship fleet had 72% of days fixed at $60,630 per day. All others save Frontline, which had fixed 77% of its suezmaxes at $72,400 per day, were in the low $50,000-per-day region.

On the call, Hansson said the oil majors that make up NAT’s primary customer base know it has a good fleet and appreciate its transparency.

“We have an excellent so-called vetting record that is the inspection of ships by our customers. We have the best vetting record in the industry,” he said.

While suezmax forward fixtures were something of a mixed bag, VLCC forecasts have fallen back.

Euronav’s VLCC fleet slipped from $57,400 per day in the fourth quarter to $55,000 per day in the first with 50% of days fixed, while International Seaways’ VLCCs tumbled from $64,596 per day to $46,600 per day with 83% of days fixed.

DHT fell from $63,800 per day in the fourth quarter to $56,400 per day with 75% of days fixed. Frontline slid from $63,200 per day to $58,300 per day with 87% of days fixed.

Those figures were released before the recent upturn in VLCC markets, in which some ships were fixed at rates well above $100,000 per day amid a flurry of fixture activity.

The Baltic Exchange’s VLCC TCE assessment — which often trails the market, as it makes assumptions about ship age and fuel consumption — showed rates shooting from $37,090 per day on 6 March to a 2023 high of $71,234 per day on 9 March.

Rates have since cooled, falling to $69,017 per day, the Baltic Exchange said, with Tankers International data showing no fixtures on Monday.