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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.

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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.

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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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Marine Fuels 360: Methanol presents easiest path towards maritime decarbonisation, says DNV

Captain Singh was confident the bunkering infrastructure in Singapore will be ready to welcome methanol-fuelled vessels due to the coordinated efforts between various agencies.





Capt Satinder

The use of methanol as a bunker fuel presents the least path of resistance towards maritime decarbonisation, believes the Principal Consultant, Head, Research and Development, Maritime Advisory, SE Asia, Pacific, and India at classification society DNV.

Captain Satinder Singh Virdi was speaking amongst panellists in the Methanol Panel session at Marine Fuels 360 on Tuesday (28 November) when he offered an opinion about reasons behind the increasing awareness of methanol as a marine fuel.

“The ease of adopting methanol is perhaps one of the reasons. The product exists as a liquid at ambient temperature and has been carried on vessels for the last 80 years, so it is not something new,” he stated.

“What is new is we're going to use methanol as a bunker fuel. Ease of adoption, ESG compliance, as well as getting closer to decarbonisation goals are the drivers for shipowners adopting methanol.”

According to Captain Singh, the trend for methanol-fuelled newbuildings have continued in October where DNV’s Alternative Fuels Insight (AFI) platform recorded 230 vessels on order where 156 comprises of containerships.

“The trend started when Maersk increased their newbuild order of methanol-fuelled vessels; before that it was mostly LNG as an alternate fuel,” he said.

Captain Singh was confident the bunkering infrastructure in Singapore will be ready to welcome methanol-fuelled vessels due to the coordinated efforts between the Singapore Shipping Association, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation, and other organisations.

“We are all working together to support Singapore’s future maritime operations. Singapore is an international maritime centre, and we want to establish ourselves as the leading maritime city,” he explained.

“I would call this a cohesive action by all relevant partners, such as shipowners, charterers, classification societies, ship managers, bunker testing firms, mass flow meter manufacturers, bunkering companies, and more.

“It is important for Singapore to be seen as a fair supporter of bunkering in terms of reliability and reputation, and if things go wrong actions are taken very strictly to ensure transparency and quality. So, in that way I am satisfied to say that ‘yes’ we have what it takes to make methanol bunkering happen.”

Related: DNV: Methanol-fuelled order trend continues, with first ammonia DF newbuilding contracts recorded in Oct
Related: Maersk invests USD 700.3 million for additional four methanol-fuelled container newbuilds

Other related: Singapore: Equatorial Marine Fuel builds four “new generation” methanol-ready bunker tankers
Other related: MPA: Due diligence carried out prior to recent Singapore methanol bunkering pilot
Other related: VPS completes quantity survey on Singapore’s first methanol bunkering op
Other related: The Methanol Institute: Singapore takes first-mover advantage in Asia with methanol bunkering pilot
Other related: Singapore bunkering sector enters milestone with first methanol marine refuelling op
Other related: Singapore gets ready for its first methanol bunkering this week after one year preparation
Other related: The Methanol Institute: Singapore takes first-mover advantage in Asia with methanol bunkering pilot

Photo credit: Informa
Published: 6 November 2023

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Höegh Autoliners, Sumitomo to collaborate on ammonia bunker fuel supply for PCTCs in Singapore, Jacksonville

Duo will embark on a comprehensive evaluation of the compatibility between Höegh Autoliners PCTC newbuilds and ammonia bunkering facilities at the identified bunker ports.





Höegh Autoliners, Sumitomo to collaborate on ammonia bunker fuel supply for PCTCs in Singapore, Jacksonville

Norway-based pure Car and Truck Carriers (PCTCs) vessel owner and operator Höegh Autoliners on Tuesday (5 December) said it has agreed with Sumitomo Corporation to look into the supply of clean ammonia as a bunker fuel at the ports of Singapore and Jacksonville, USA from 2027 onwards.

The two companies have formalised their commitment through a Letter of Intent to collaborate on the supply and delivery of clean ammonia as a next-generation sustainable maritime fuel for Höegh Autoliners’ upcoming Aurora Class PCTC vessels. 

The twelve vessels are set to become the largest and most eco-friendly car carriers ever built and they will have the capability to run on zero-carbon ammonia or carbon neutral methanol. 

“The Letter of Intent symbolises a remarkable step in the realisation and development of the production and consumption of clean maritime fuels. The collaboration hopes to stimulate the upscaling of the supply and demand of clean ammonia for maritime usage,” Höegh Autoliners said in a statement. 

Both companies view clean ammonia as a promising future fuel for the maritime industry, offering substantial potential in addressing the challenges associated with greenhouse gas emissions in global shipping. 

To support this vision, both entities have launched a range of initiatives throughout the ammonia value chain, with a primary focus on making clean ammonia a viable choice for maritime fuel and thereby achieving significant reductions in emissions from the global shipping sector.

Moving forward, the companies will embark on a comprehensive evaluation of the compatibility between the PCTC vessels and the ammonia bunkering facilities at the identified bunker ports. 

They endeavour to make necessary adjustments to specifications for both “shore-to-ship” and “ship-to-ship” bunkering operations and undertake safety assessments to establish standardised operational protocols and regulations in close coordination with pertinent government agencies.

Photo credit: Höegh Autoliners
Published: 6 December, 2023

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Alternative Fuels

CENIT and Hinicio to explore feasibility of zero-carbon bunkers in Colombia

Mission is to explore the feasibility of producing, storing, supplying, and exporting zero-carbon bunker fuels at strategic port locations in Colombia, says centre.





Luis Desiro on Unsplash

The Centre for Innovation in Transport (CENIT) on Tuesday (5 December) said it was teaming up with Hinicio, a strategy consulting firm focused on sustainable energy and mobility, for a project funded by The World Bank in Colombia.

CENIT said their mission was to explore the feasibility of producing, storing, supplying, and exporting zero-carbon bunker fuels at strategic port locations in Colombia.

“The shipping industry is poised to become a major demand centre for zero-carbon fuels, particularly green hydrogen-based options like green ammonia and green methanol,” CENIT said in a social media post. 

“And it will play a pivotal role in transporting these zero-carbon fuels from emerging production hubs in Latin America to high-demand centres in Europe and East Asia.”

“This project takes us a step closer to decarbonising ports and fostering a sustainable future for maritime transportation.”

Photo credit: Luis Desiro on Unsplash
Published: 6 December, 2023

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