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Integr8: What is driving increased bunker prices and how quickly can they fall? 

Integr8 breaks down the fundamentals that are behind the price hikes, specifically, what is happening on supply side in Saudi oil production and what is behind demand increase coming from China.





By Steve Christy, Research Contributor, Integr8 Fuels
[email protected]       

28 September 2023

VLSFO prices have been on another rise

A month ago, we wrote about high bunker prices which were based on two key factors: Tightness in most product markets; And additional oil production cutbacks by Saudi Arabia. Now, bunker prices are even higher.

Brent has moved above $90/bbl, with Singapore VLSFO above $660/mt and close to peak levels seen at the start of this year. Rotterdam VLSFO has been trading at around $615-635/mt, its highest so far this year. More recently Rotterdam prices have eased slightly but they are still above this year’s previous peaks, and Singapore prices remain at high levels.

graph 1 1024x704 1

Much tighter fundamentals are behind the price hike

On a very short-term basis, the market can see dramatic price shifts, but it is normally the fundamentals that drive price direction over a period of weeks and months. We are now in a strong fundamental period, with year-on-year growth in global oil demand at 3 million b/d in Q2 this year and projected at 2 million b/d in Q3 and Q4. The key factor here is growth is almost entirely centred on China.

At the same time there are huge constraints in oil supply, with the additional 1 million b/d voluntary cut made by Saudi Arabia, starting in July. In fact, part of the recent price hike is that Saudi Arabia has recently committed to extending these additional cuts through to the end of this year.

Additionally, the September 21st announcement by Russia which banned all diesel and gasoline exports to support their own domestic market and, we can see clear reasons why oil prices have taken another leap higher over the past month.

On the supply side, it is what’s happening to Saudi oil production

Saudi Arabia’s stated policy is aimed at supporting a market with less volatility, and more sustainable and predictable outcomes. As part of this strategy, the country had reduced crude output by 0.5 million b/d in line with the overall OPEC+ agreement, and then made a further 1 million b/d cut over the second half of this year. The net result is that Saudi crude production has fallen sharply over the past few months and is currently some 1.5 million b/d lower than average 2022 levels (8.9 million b/d in August vs an average of 10.4 million b/d last year). This lower level of output is expected to be maintained through to the end of the year.

graph 2 1024x578 1

Looking at alternative crude supplies, US production crude production is near record highs and higher oil prices has incentivised even greater investment in US shale oil. However, the problem here is Saudi cuts are instantaneous and any rise in US shale production from new investment takes months. Hence, current signals are for a potential tightness in supply over the rest of this year, before an expected 1 million b/d hike in January as Saudi crude output climbs back towards 10 million b/d.

On the demand side it is all about China, China, China

Fundamentals on the demand side also point to higher oil prices. As mentioned, increases in global oil demand are running at 2-3 million b/d (year-on-year), and these are big numbers. However, they are almost entirely based on what is happening in China; product demand developments elsewhere are minimal, and even falling in Europe and projected to start falling in the US next year.

The reason for current very high year-on-year growth rates in China is that the country was still largely in lockdown through 2022, and the easing has only taken place this year. This is much later than almost all other countries worldwide, where the post-pandemic ‘boom’ took place in 2022, not 2023. Therefore, it is more-or-less China alone that is driving up oil demand this year.

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Clearly there is a risk of weaker demand than forecast in many countries but if we are looking for a big price impact from the demand side, then it is more likely to be stories about China that are going to drive prices up or down.

Market tightness in Q3 & Q4, but potentially changing going into 2024

Bringing together these more extreme developments in supply and demand, the graph below illustrates global fundamentals on a quarterly basis. The key for us is that global oil supply exceeded demand through most of 2022 and in the first quarter of this year, resulting in an ongoing global stock build. However, we have just been through a turning point, where demand is exceeding supply in Q3 this year and this is expected to be repeated in Q4, leading to stock draws.

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It is not until the start of next year that we see a reversal and another turning point is envisaged. It is at this stage; Saudi Arabia says it will lift its voluntary 1 million b/d cutbacks. At the same time year-on-year growth in oil demand is expected to ease back to around 1 million b/d. So, at the start of next year oil supply is projected to exceed demand once again, reverting us back to a world of stock builds.

Summarising by looking at the global stock build/stock draw positions, we can see the exceptional times we are currently in; Having moved to a position of stock draws in Q3 and projected for Q4 this year. In addition, the tightness in global stocks lies with oil products, and not crude oil. This has been driven by high product demand and exacerbated by several unplanned refinery outages this year.

graph 5 1024x618 1

Going into next year the position looks like reversing again, going back to a fundamental global stock build.

What’s next?

Given the fundamentals, these developments explain the wave of price rises we have seen in September.

Looking ahead over the rest of this year and into 2024, on the demand side China is the main story. Of course, Chinese demand could be higher than currently projected, in which case Brent crude could easily pass the $100/bbl ‘barrier’, along with Singapore VLSFO going above $700/mt.

However, the chatter at the moment is about weakness in the Chinese economy. If this translates to lower oil demand, then it will be a sign ‘to sell’, and prices for us all would come down. This is clearly the story to watch on the demand side.

The supply side seems more predictable - When Saudi Arabia announces the additional cutbacks will be eased (or there are strong indications of this), then oil prices are likely to fall. A reversal of the Russian ban on diesel and gasoline exports could also have a bearish impact.

Timing is everything in all these developments, and the extent of any fall in prices may still be dependent on how tight oil product stocks are at the time and what stocks look like doing in the near term.

Being precise on price movements is difficult, but we know prices never wait for the fundamentals to be borne out; Markets react on news, changes, and psychology. If the fundamentals do play out as shown in this report, then prices are more likely to fall before the end of the year, in anticipation of weaker fundamentals going into 2024. Let’s see what happens…..

Photo credit and source: Integr8
Published: 4 October, 2023

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LNG Bunkering

Titan completes first STS LNG bunkering operation in Cuxhaven

Port of Cuxhaven in Germany had previously only seen LNG operations conducted via truck and currently only permits LNG bunkering at one berth, says Titan.





Titan completes first STS LNG bunkering operation in Cuxhaven

LNG bunker fuel supplier Titan on Thursday (11 July) said it completed the first-ever LNG bunkering operation by ship in the port of Cuxhaven.

Titan’s bunker vessel Optimus successfully delivered LNG to dredger Vox Ariane operated by its long-term client Van Oord. 

“Our ship-to-ship bunkering in Cuxhaven represents a pioneering step in the region's LNG infrastructure development, as the port had previously only seen LNG operations conducted via truck and currently only permits LNG bunkering at one berth,” it said in a social media post. 

“LNG infrastructure development is part of a broader trend, with more ports across Germany adopting LNG operations to support shipping’s clean fuels transition.”

Titan added the improved LNG bunkering capabilities in Cuxhaven, a Niedersachsen Ports GmbH & Co. KG port, also opened up the pathway to maritime decarbonisation via liquified biomethane (LBM) and then renewable e-methane going forward.


Photo credit: Titan
Published: 12 July, 2024

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LNG Bunkering

UECC “Auto Achieve” receives first LNG bunker fuel delivery by barge in home country

Firm said it received the first ever supply of LNG by barge to their multi-fuel LNG battery hybrid car carrier in the Port of Drammen, Norway.





UECC “Auto Achieve” receives first LNG bunker fuel delivery by barge in home country

Norwegian roll-on/roll-off shipping line United European Car Carriers (UECC) on Wednesday (10 July) said it received the first ever supply of LNG by barge to their multi-fuel LNG battery hybrid car carrier Auto Achieve in the Port of Drammen on 4 July.

The firm said this was the first time UECC received LNG by barge to any of their vessels in their home country Norway. 

“We also believe that it was the first time LNG was delivered by barge to any vessel in Drammen, and most likely the entire Oslofjord,” UECC said in a social media post.

The LNG was supplied by the Molgas Energy Holding vessel Pioneer Knutsen, owned by Knutsen Group OAS.

“UECC is very pleased to see the expansion of the LNG barge network in Norway,” it said. 


Photo credit: UECC
Published: 12 July, 2024

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OceanScore reveals ship segments set to feel EUR 1.3 billion sting of FuelEU penalties

Container segment will bear the brunt of FuelEU costs, accounting for 29% of gross penalties, followed by RoPax on 14% with tankers and bulkers each on 13%, says firm.





OceanScore Managing Director Albrecht Grell

Hamburg-based technology platform OceanScore on Tuesday (9 July) said the financial impact of FuelEU Maritime is focusing the minds of shipping companies as they face potential penalties for non-compliance with greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity reduction targets - and OceanScore has identified those segments set to be hit hardest.

The following is an article by OceanScore elaborating on the matter:

Vessels in the passenger/cruise, container, RoPax, bulker and tanker segments will have significant cost exposure from the complex regulation due to be implemented from 1 January next year, despite a relatively modest initial target of a 2% cut in GHG intensity, according to OceanScore.

The firm’s data analytics team has calculated that shipping will rack up total FuelEU penalties of €1.345 billion in 2025 through analysis of the 13,000 vessels over 5000gt trading within and into the EU/EEA that are subject to the regulation. This is based on data on trading patterns and fuel mix from 2022 - the last full year currently available.

Containers bear burden

The team has been able to determine FuelEU compliance balances and resulting penalties for each vessel using OceanScore’s proprietary data modelling incorporating AIS data, Thetis emissions data, bunker intelligence and advanced analytics/AI. It has factored in the likely fuel mix for each vessel between EU ports and to/from the EU, as well as in ports.

Vessels will be hit with a penalty of €2400 per tonne of VLSFO-equivalent for failing to meet the initial 2% reduction target relative to a 2020 baseline for average well-to-wake GHG intensity from fleet energy consumption of 91.16 gCO2e per megajoule (MJ) - or emissions per energy unit. The GHG intensity requirement applies to 100% of energy used on voyages and port calls within the EU/EEA and 50% of voyages into and out of the bloc.

As with the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), it is the container segment that will bear the brunt of FuelEU costs, accounting for 29% of gross penalties, followed by RoPax on 14% with tankers and bulkers each on 13%.

“It is critical for shipping companies to determine a baseline for expected FuelEU costs to secure proper planning and budgeting processes to compare different mitigation options, as well as to decide what to do with outstanding compliance balances,” says OceanScore Managing Director Albrecht Grell.

“This will require, to a higher degree than the EU ETS, a corporate strategy to determine how to reduce the compliance balance/deficit, how to commercialise a surplus and deal with deficits that remain.”

Wide spread of vessel liabilities

OceanScore has found that liabilities per vessel will differ widely across the various segments due to increasingly diversified fuel choices, including greater uptake of biofuels and LNG. Passenger vessels will be penalised the most with an average of €520,000 per vessel annually, followed by RoPax at €480,000 and RoRo at €314,000, with an average penalty for container ships of only €214,000, according to OceanScore.

Grell points out there are also massive discrepancies between vessels within these segments, with a number of ships in the passenger and RoPax segments exposed to penalties of between €1.8m and €2.5m, and payment obligations for some container ships approaching €1m. This is driven by higher energy consumption simply due to vessel size and trading profile.

While penalties will arise from so-called compliance deficits for vessels using conventional fuels, surpluses totalling an estimated €669m will be generated mainly by vessels fuelled by LNG and LPG with significantly lower carbon intensity.

LNG carriers will account for 78% of the total market surplus and gas carriers 8%, while a further 8% will be generated by container ships that have seen a modest uptake in alternative fuels in recent years.

Pooling can halve costs for the industry

Taking into account this estimated compliance surplus, the net cost of FuelEU penalties for shipping from 2025 would be €680m, which indicates that pooling of vessels can roughly halve the gross burden for the industry.

Penalties will, in segments typically using conventional fuels with comparable carbon intensities such as HFO, LFO or MDO, be roughly proportional to the overall fuel consumption, thus correlating with the EU ETS cost.

Initial costs of FuelEU for most conventionally fuelled vessels, prior to pooling, will be around one-third of those associated with the EU ETS next year when the latter regulation will have 70% phase-in. But ultimately FuelEU is likely to prove a much more costly affair as the requirement for GHG intensity cuts rises to 6% by 2030 and then accelerates to reach 80% by 2050.

“It is therefore incumbent on shipowners to define their strategies not only towards fuel choices and the use of onshore power but also towards handling of residual compliance balances such as pooling, banking and borrowing of balances, to mitigate the financial impact of FuelEU. However, pooling will also come at a cost, while banking and borrowing will incur interest costs and only push liabilities into the future,” Grell explains.

‘Sound administrative processes’

He further points out that pooling compensations paid between different shipping companies will effectively divert cash flow away from the EU that it would otherwise have earned from FuelEU penalties – but that this effect is intended by the regulator to “reward” early adopters of clean fuels.

Another factor that will curb potential income for the EU from this regulation is that the compliance gap has been reduced to only 1.6% by 2022, as average GHG intensity from shipping has come down by 0.4% to 90.82 gCO2e per MJ, mainly due to increased LNG carrier calls to Europe after gas supplies via pipelines from Russia were halted when the latter invaded Ukraine. Given this trend and increasing adoption of biofuels, the 2% compliance gap will probably be closed before the first tightening of reduction targets in 2030.

Grell says the priority for shipping companies, especially at this early stage while cost exposure is relatively low, is to get to grips with the complexity of the regulation and tackle the risks arising from the fact the party liable for penalties - the DoC holder, or possibly shipowner - is not the one responsible for emissions, which is typically the charterer.

“As well as having costs oversight, companies require reliable monitoring and reporting mechanisms with high-quality emissions data. They must also have in place complex contractual arrangements and sound administrative processes to manage compliance and mitigate the financial consequences of the new regulation,” Grell concludes.

Related: FuelEU: New regulation leaves DoC holder with fuel liabilities risk, says OceanScore
Related: ‘Big opportunity’ for bunker traders, suppliers on upcoming FuelEU regulation, forecasts OceanScore


Photo credit: OceanScore
Published: 12 July, 2024

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