Volatile Global Fuel Market Impacts Bunker Prices
Written by MABUX – Marine Bunker Exchange, an Aspect Partner, provides traders, operators, buyers and suppliers with current data on the bunker fuel industry.
World oil indexes ended last week with the first weekly loss in a while under the combined weight of various bearish factors, and the downward trend continues this week. Some analysts still believe we could witness Brent at US$100 a barrel before the year’s end, while others are more guarded in their predictions. The market still questions whether OPEC can continue to produce oil in sufficient quantity to offset what is sure to be growing production declines in Iran and Venezuela.
MABUX World Bunker Index (which consists of a range of prices for 380 HSFO, 180 HSFO and MGO at the main world hubs), demonstrated a slight downward evolution in the period of Oct.11 – Oct.18:
380 HSFO – down from 486.36 to 478.29 USD/MT (-8.07)
180 HSFO – down from 530.64 to 525.93 USD/MT (-4.71)
MGO – down from 752.00 to 737.43 USD/MT (-14.57)
The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) lowered its oil demand growth forecasts for 2018 and 2019 by 110,000 barrels a day (bpd), to 1.3 million bpd and 1.4 million bpd. The agency said that despite fresh U.S. sanctions set to take effect on Iran’s energy sector on November 5, global oil supply still remains robust. The IEA noted that global oil production increased by 1.4 million barrels per day on a net basis since May, which helped lead to an inventory build at an average rate of 0.5 million bpd during the second quarter and likely the third quarter as well. As a result of a sizable stockpile of oil in storage, and these higher levels of production, the oil market is not in danger of shortages at the moment. However, that has come at the expense of spare capacity, which is already down to only 2 percent of global demand.
The market assumes the U.S. trade war with China will continue to escalate, perhaps at an even more accelerated rate, when U.S. sanctions officially hit Iran next month. The counter-Iran action, however, is likely to be undercut by China, which currently buys around one quarter of Iranian crude and will not be joining a unilateral cut-off of Iranian oil imports. On the other hand, in August China’s purchases of oil from the U.S. fell to zero, after China had been the largest buyer of American crude in the first half of the year. U.S. producers are still finding buyers, but are having to look elsewhere. Meanwhile, Russia and Saudi Arabia are replacing the U.S. as the main suppliers to China.
In the meantime, the U.S. has decided to go ahead with a planned meeting between President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jingping in November to see if they can overcome trade differences. The U.S. Treasury is expected conclude that China has not been manipulating its currency, which is seen as a small overture to China from Washington. Some American officials that oppose the trade war hope that the Trump-Xi meeting could lead to a breakthrough.
South Korea in turn has stopped importing crude oil from Iran ahead of the U.S. sanctions. The country imported zero Iranian oil in September for the first time in six years. Since the start of 2018, South Korean imports of Iranian crude had fallen by 49.1 percent from 2017, as of the end of September, to a total 7.15 million tons. South Korea is a close ally of the United States, and it is no surprise the country opted for full compliance with Washington.
In the first two weeks of October, Iran’s oil exports averaged 1.3 million barrels per day, down from the 1.6 million bpd it averaged in September, and down from the recent peak of 2.5 million bpd in April. As per OPEC sources, Iran’s oil production in September plunged by 150,000 bpd from August to reach 3.447 million bpd last month. It might be considered as evidence that Iran has been cutting oil production, although not at the fast rate at which its exports have been dropping over the past two months. Iran, for its part, claims a much smaller loss in its oil production: Tehran self-reported to OPEC that its crude oil production in September stood at 3.755 million bpd, down by 51,000 bpd from August. Among all OPEC members, Iran booked the steepest decline in production in September, followed by another slump in Venezuela, this time by 42,000 bpd to 1.197 million bpd.
Other OPEC members, however, almost entirely compensated for the loss of production in Iran and Venezuela-OPEC’s total production increased by 132,000 bpd in September to 32.761 million bpd. OPEC’s biggest producer Saudi Arabia lifted output to 10.512 million bpd. Another big jump came from Libya: production rose by 103,000 bpd to average 1.053 million bpd. Angola and Nigeria also contributed to OPEC’s higher production. Russia hit a post-Soviet record at 11.54 million bpd in September, up by 150,000 bpd from August.
The latest Drilling Productivity Report from the EIA shows strong gains expected for next month. The EIA predicts the U.S. will add 98,000 bpd in November compared to a month earlier.
China’s independent refiners will probably increase their intake of foreign oil by 23.9 percent to 2.1 million bpd this month. The total for the month will come in at 9 million tons, which is up from 7.26 million tons for September and will also be driven by falling inventories that need filling up as we near the end of the year: private refiners have to use their import quotas before the new year starts. Beijing announced it will raise by 42 percent the oil import quota for its non-state refiners for 2019 as new refinery capacity is planned to enter into operation next year. As a result, freight rates for Aframax tankers to Asia have reached their highest level so far this year.
North and South Korea agreed on Oct.15 to begin reconnecting rail and road links, another step in an improving relationship. They also agreed to discuss late this month a plan to pursue a bid to co-host the 2032 Olympic Games, and to explore in November ways to restart webcam reunions and video exchanges for families separated by the Korean War. The two countries also discussed a military pact which includes the reinstatement of a joint military commission, the halting of military exercises, a no-fly zone near their border and the gradual removal of landmines and guard posts within the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The thaw in ties between the neighbor countries has sparked U.S. concerns that it may be outpacing negotiations to dismantle the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
We expect bunker prices will change irregularly next week amid rising volatility brought about by the impending U.S. sanctions against Tehran and the uncertainty surrounding other producers’ capacity to increase production quickly enough to offset any supply loss.