November 8, 2019
Volume 7 Issue 7
Asia Base Oil Price Report
Activity in Asia has begun to decline ahead of the year-end holidays, mimicking conditions in Europe and the United States. With buying interest losing strength in other regions, Asian suppliers encountered difficulties finding an outlet for their products as markets in their own part of the world appeared well supplied.
Buyers were heard to be securing small cargoes and many seem to be running plants hand-to-mouth in order to avoid a product overhang when December 31 comes around.
Producers were heard to be doing their best to hold on to current price levels, as the ample supply placed downward pressure on pricing, but, at the same time, relatively steep crude oil and feedstock values meant that margins were being squeezed.
In Taiwan, producer Formosa Petrochemical was heard to have increased domestic list prices for its API Group II base oils. The producer's Group II 70 neutral grade was marked up by New Taiwan Dollars (NT$) 0.21 per liter, while its 150N was raised by NT$0.24/liter. The list price of Formosa's 500N cut was increased by NT$0.41/liter, all applicable to November shipments.
Northeast Asian suppliers were also facing competition with product from other regions, particularly in large markets such as India, where there is always thirst for attractively priced base oils. It was heard that a base stocks parcel was scheduled to load on the U.S. Gulf Coast and head to India in early November, while a larger cargo was expected to be shipped from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, regularly shipped Group II cargoes of South Korean origin were also bound for India in the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, in China, import volumes have decreased compared to a month ago due to sluggish demand and plentiful availability, both of domestic product, as well as imports. A number of new plants started production earlier this year, which increased domestic availability of product, but it was heard that a couple of units that were slated to come on-stream mid-year have now delayed their start-ups until December.
Asia spot prices were assessed as steady-to-soft this week, given persistent downward pressure on some of the more readily available grades against softer demand.
Ex-tank Singapore Group I prices for the solvent neutral 150 grade were stable between $720/t-$740/t, and the SN500 was unchanged at $770/t-$790/t. Bright stock was lower by $10/t at $850/t-$870/t, all ex-tank Singapore.
The Group II 150 neutral was unchanged at $760/t-$780/t, while the 500N was heard at $770/t-$790/t, ex-tank Singapore.
On an FOB Asia basis, Group I SN150 was revised down by $10 per metric ton at the low end of the range to $550/t-$580/t. The SN500 grade was steady at $580/t-$600/t. Bright stock was holding at $740/t-$760/t, FOB Asia.
Group II 150N was holding at $570/t-$590/t FOB Asia, while the 500N and 600N cuts were hovering at $590/t-$610/t, FOB Asia.
In the Group III segment, the 4 centiStoke and 6 cSt were holding at $770-$800/t and $780/t-$825/t, respectively. The 8 cSt grade was gauged at $720-740/t, FOB Asia for fully approved product.
Upstream, crude oil futures reversed course on Thursday and recovered after Wednesday's drop. Numbers had slipped after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a crude oil inventory build last week. Additionally, there was further pressure following news that OPEC+ would likely not revise the current oil output curb, but would instead concentrate on increasing compliance with the existing cuts.
However, futures moved up on optimistic news regarding the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute after China signaled progress towards a trade deal with the United States, raising hopes for an end to prolonged tensions that have weighed on economic growth and fuel demand. China and the United States have agreed to cancel tariffs in different phases, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday without specifying a timeline, according to Reuters.
On Nov. 7, Brent January futures were trading at $62.42 per barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, compared to $60.36/bbl for December futures on Oct. 31.
In other news, in its October 2019 Regional Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund reported that Asia's economy has slowed down due to prolonged global policy uncertainty and deceleration in the economies of important trading partners.
"Growth in Asia is expected to moderate to 5.0 percent in 2019 and 5.1 percent in 2020 (0.4 and 0.3 percentage point lower than projected last April, respectively). A marked deceleration in merchandise trade and investment, driven by distortionary trade measures and an uncertain policy environment, is weighing on activity, particularly in the manufacturing sector," the organization said.
The IMF cited a faster-than-expected slowdown in China, a deepening of regional tensions such as Japan’s and Korea’s bilateral relationship, rising geopolitical risks, and increased incidence of natural disasters as factors contributing to the region's deceleration in growth rates.
In IMO 2020-related news, ship owners do not appear to be making the switch to very low sulfur fuel oil – VLSFO – to comply with the new regulations as fast as expected, LiveBunkers.com reported in a Nov. 7 article. Many ship operators still favor marine gas oil – MGO – over VLSFO because MGO is "more available and well-known and VLSFO is an entirely new product."
Ship owners had previously thought VLSFO would have already been positioned at the world's refueling facilities by now, but this does not appear to be the case. Instead, ship owners seem to be waiting until the last possible moment to make the switchover to compliant fuel, and bunker suppliers are not preemptively bringing in VLSFO before ship owners make that switch, the article explained.
The new IMO 2020 regulations, which go into effect on Jan. 1, are not only expected to affect marine fuel prices, but also have an impact on the type of lubricants used to run ship engines, and on base oil prices as refiners may stream more feedstocks into marine fuel production.
Gabriela Wheeler can be reached directly at gabriela@LubesnGreases.com.
Lubes’n’Greases shall not be liable for commercial decisions based on the contents of this report.