The Global Bunker Market Is In A State Of Uncertainty
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 changed irregularly during the week. Another U.S. crude oil inventory increase as well as some fears about U.S. steel tariffs, and follow up possible protectionist measures, weighed on fuel sentiment. Meanwhile, news that Trump would allow some exceptions to the tariffs, his decision to replace Secretary of State Tillerson with loyalist CIA Director Mike Pompeo (an outspoken critic of Iran), a strong U.S. jobs report and Libya’s temporary crude outage rendered momentum support to fuel prices.
MABUX World Bunker Index (consists of a range of prices for 380 HSFO, 180 HSFO and MGO at the main world hubs) demonstrated again insignificant irregular changes in the period of March 8 – March 15:
380 HSFO – up from 352.57 to 354,93 USD/MT (+2.36)
180 HSFO – up from 392,57 to 395,00 USD/MT (+2.43)
MGO – down from 603.36 to 602,29 USD/MT (-1.07)
It is expected that over the next 25 years, the oil industry will need another $25 trillion in investment just to meet expected demand. The sentiment came after the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that the oil market will be short on supply in the 2020s without an increase in upstream spending. The conclusion is that the oil market could be well-supplied in the near-term because of U.S. shale, but faces supply risks in the early to mid 2020s because of low upstream investment.
Total OPEC production dropped to 32.14 million barrels per day in January, a 9-month low. That was largely the result of a sharp decline in output from Nigeria and Venezuela.
Meanwhile, there is a possibility that OPEC’s oil production cut agreement could be closed rather soon due to new confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This time the dispute centers on exactly what price the cartel should be targeting. Saudi Arabia insisted that crude oil should be kept closer to US$70 a barrel—a level Brent touched briefly early this year—and Iran’s equal insistence is that US$60 is a better price for oil to trade at. The problem is that U.S. drillers have demonstrated that they could produce more at US$60 a barrel, so bringing prices closer to that level is not a guaranteed way to compensate U.S. oil production growth. This disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran could see the cartel start unwinding the cuts as early as June, when it will meet with its partners to discuss progress and next steps.
A labor strike at the Zawiya oil port in Libya delayed operations on March 12. The port was opened only a day later. The past week has also seen the signs of instability in the Libyan oil sector: crude oil production at Sharara was briefly suspended after the pipeline that feeds the crude from the field to the Zawiya terminal was blocked. Last month, protests also shut down most production from another field, El Feel (as of the start of this month it produced just 25,000 bpd, down from 75,000 bpd before oilfield guards began their protest). The civil war in the country undermined its oil industry. Libya produced 1.6 million barrels of crude daily before the war, but less than 1 million bpd currently – the factor which supports price indications at the moment.
The U.S. President Donald Trump has officially imposed tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports which could spark inflation and provoke retaliation from U.S. trade partners. Major powers including the European Union and China have already warned that the Trump administration’s new protectionist import tariffs could lead to retaliatory action, triggering a global trade war that could bring economic growth to a standstill. This would, by extension, drag down oil consumption.
Meanwhile, strong U.S. jobs data at the end of last week helped take the edge off market’s concerns about the potential outbreak of trade war between the United States and other major economies. U.S. nonfarm payrolls data which showed a significant 313,000 rise in jobs, but also revealed that annual growth in average hourly earnings had slowed to 2.6 percent after spiking in January. This suggested that the world’s largest economy is experiencing a high growth without a corresponding spike in inflation.
Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13 after a series of public rifts over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran, and replaced him with loyalist CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Pompeo is an outspoken critic of Iran, who has called for a 2015 nuclear deal to be scrapped. Trump has threatened to withdraw from the accord between Iran and six world powers, signed before he took office, unless Congress and European allies fix it with a follow-up pact. The move increases the odds of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, although Pompeo still needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
Fuel markets were also mainly affected by soaring output from the U.S., which has risen by 23 percent since the middle of 2016, to 10.381 million barrels per day. Another 3-rig increase to the number of oil and gas rigs was reported in the U.S. last week as well. Despite the overall increase, the number of oil rigs in the United States decreased by 4 last week, for a total of 796 active oil wells in the US—a figure that is still 179 more rigs than this time last year.
As a result, U.S. oil production has already surpassed that of top exporter Saudi Arabia and is expected to surpass that of top producer Russia by 2019. This would pose a significant challenge for the OPEC, which has been trying to prop up oil prices by cutting output. Unlike Middle East producers (where output is largely dictated by state-owned oil companies), U.S. producers drill and sell purely based on economics. It is expected, that the correlation between the U.S. oil production and the oil prices will remain considerable.
One more factor: hedge funds have resumed liquidating their bullish long positions in crude oil and refined fuels amid more signs that the earlier rally in prices has slowed down. The reduction largely reversed an increase of 68 million barrels the previous week. Meantime, long positions still outnumbered short positions by a ratio of 10:1, down from a peak of almost 12:1 in January. With so many long positions already established oil prices have struggled to rise further in recent weeks. Instead the market has seen a slow but steady liquidation with existing longs cut by a total of almost 250 million barrels since January 23. It remains uncertain whether this is merely a pause and the price rally will resume shortly, or whether it marks a temporary peak, with more liquidation and price falls to come.
We expect bunker prices will continue irregular changes next week.
* MGO LS – All prices stated in USD / Mton
All time high Brent = $147.50 (July 11, 2008)
All time high Light crude (WTI) = $147.27 (July 11, 2008)