Erik Hoffman and Enes Tunagur of global energy and commodity price reporting agency Argus Media on Wednesday (26 February) issued a report analysing the diminishing LSFO fuel spread over 3.5% sulphur marine fuel:
Lower demand and improved supply logistics for low-sulphur marine fuel have pushed its price premium to high-sulphur marine fuel to all-time lows at the world’s three largest bunkering hubs.
The premium of 0.5% sulphur marine fuel oil (0.5% fuel oil) over 3.5% sulphur 380cst marine fuel oil (3.5% fuel oil) has narrowed most sharply in Fujairah. Since 30 December last year — when it was at its highest — the premium has come down by 72%, from $497.50/t to $140.50/t yesterday.
In Rotterdam it dropped by 60% from a high of $309.50/t on 30 December to $125/t yesterday. The equivalent barge fob price premium for 0.5% sulphur fuel oil fell even more steeply in Rotterdam over the period, dropping by 64% from $323.25/t on 3 January to $116.50/t yesterday. Rising European fuel oil supply and inflows from Scandinavia weighed on 0.5% fuel oil fob barge prices. Fuel oil output in the EU-16, including high and low-sulphur fuels, was at its highest in January since April 2019 at 1.08mn b/d, Euroilstock data showed. Fresh 0.5% fuel oil production boosted output.
In Singapore the premium has narrowed by 58% since its widest on 2 January, from $370.50/t to $155.25/t yesterday.
Underlying front-month Ice Brent and Ice gasoil values have contributed to bring the low-sulphur premiums down. But their impact on the premiums has not been as sharp as the drop in 0.5% fuel oil prices.
Front-month Ice Brent and Ice gasoil prices came down by 20% and 24%, respectively, between 30 December and yesterday. This compares with 0.5% fuel oil prices, which have fallen by 43% in Fujairah and 31% in Rotterdam since 30 December, and 38% in Singapore since 2 January.
Global 0.5% fuel oil demand peaked in December amid limited supply logistics as shipowners were scrambling to secure compliant fuel before the IMO’s 0.5% sulphur cap was implemented on 1 January.
Delivery times for 0.5% fuel oil have improved significantly since the weeks leading up to the sulphur cap. In late November, shipowners had to book eight days in advance to get 0.5% fuel oil when demand for IMO-compliant fuel started picking up. A barge shortage in Fujairah around the same time caused loading delays of 2-4 days at terminals. Barge queues also limited 0.5% fuel oil supply in Rotterdam and led suppliers to charge premiums of around $20/t for prompt deliveries.
The price for 3.5% fuel oil did not collapse around 1 January, as some predicted, but has held up better than 0.5% fuel oil and 0.1% sulphur marine gasoil (MGO) prices in 2020. Since 30 December the 3.5% fuel oil price has fallen by 15% from $340/t to $290/t in Singapore, held at $279.50/t in Rotterdam, and risen by 10% from $268.50/t to $295/t in Fujairah.
The US has replaced Singapore as the largest cargo buyer of 3.5% fuel oil from Russia — the world’s largest producer — in 2020, as bunkering demand for the non-compliant product dropped along with delayed scrubber installations. Fresh demand from US refineries resulted in a rebound of 3.5% fuel oil barge fob prices, driving values in northwest Europe from a low of $179/t on 29 November to $265/t yesterday.
More scrubber-fitted vessels are expected to return to operation in March and April to boost demand for 3.5% fuel oil, which could add upward price pressure and narrow the spread.
Some suppliers are reassessing demand for 3.5% fuel oil and possibly allocating more storage and barge tank space to it, which would add downward price pressure.
Photo credit and source: Argus Media
Published: 28 February, 2020
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