Asia Base Oil Price Report

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An uptick in base oil demand in a number of countries, together with production curbs and several refiners’ decision to stream more feedstocks into distillates have helped reduce the supply overhang weighing on prices. While there were early indications that the strict COVID-related restrictions in China might start to be relaxed, there were still vast areas under lockdown, leading to concerns of lower demand for crude oil and refined products in one of Asia’s key consumer markets.

The prospects of cooling Chinese demand for crude oil had driven prices down last week. Crude oil futures were lower on Thursday as well given climbing COVID cases in China and easing concerns that the war in Ukraine would spill into NATO territory after a missile killed two in Poland. NATO and Ukraine said on Wednesday that the projectile was likely fired by Ukrainian forces defending against a barrage of Russian missiles.

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On Nov. 17, Brent January 2023 futures were trading at $92.32 per barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, from $92.03/bbl on Nov. 10.

Dubai front month crude oil (Platts) financial futures for December settled at $85.55 per barrel on the CME on Nov. 16, compared to $85.48/bbl on Nov. 9.

While there were some signs that the Chinese government’s exacting zero-COVID policies might be relaxed, sources said that the country had been under these rules for so long that it would likely take months for any significant changes to materialize. The Chinese population has grown increasingly weary of the restrictions. On Monday, residents that were under lockdown in China’s southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou tore down barriers that did not allow them to leave their homes, taking to the streets in defiance of strictly enforced local orders, CNN.com reported after several videos of the incidents surfaced.

At the same time, there were optimistic views of the meeting that Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday. Analysts believed the meeting lay the groundwork for responsible competition and more communication between the two countries, with stock markets reacting positively in mainland China and Hong Kong the day after.

Meanwhile, in the realm of base oils, Chinese consumers have been largely relying on domestic supplies and had limited their import volumes in previous months up until October, but they have now returned to the market. However, given uncertainties regarding lubricant consumption in China due to the COVID-related lockdowns and ensuing economic slowdown, base oil consumers remained guarded in terms of commitments. They sought heavy viscosity grades because of the country’s ongoing structural deficit of these grades, with particular interest shown in bright stock cargoes becoming available in Southeast Asia.

Some base oil plants in China continued to run at reduced rates or remained shut down, and as a result, buyers were eyeing availability from other sources. Domestic base oil prices have moved up, making imports competitive. Several import shipments surfaced over the last couple of weeks and more were under discussion. A couple of these cargoes were expected to originate in South Korea, with a 4,000-metric-ton lot on the table for shipment from Yeosu to Qingdao and Tianjin in late November/early December and a smaller 1,100-metric-ton lot also mentioned from Onsan to Dongguan at the end of December, among other discussions. The sole Taiwanese API Group II producer was also anticipated to be shipping large term contract cargoes to China this month.

In India, base oil demand was characterized as steady, given that some end-users have exhausted inventories and were hoping to replenish stocks before values rose, as the downward price trend previously observed appeared to have stalled. However, buyers remained cautious and preferred to purchase smaller volumes to limit their risk exposure. Most consumers relied on term volumes rather than engage in significant spot business, especially while they tried to assess the price direction. Refiners have cut run rates to avoid oversupply of base oils. Diesel prices have edged up globally on strained supplies and offered better margins.

Indian buyers appeared to be on the lookout for competitive base oil cargoes from the United States, where there were excess supplies of light grades. There were reports of U.S. Group II suppliers considering shipments to India before the end of the year. About 12,000 metric tons were mentioned for shipment from the U.S. Gulf to West Coast India in early November or December this week.

Fresh shipments from South Korea to India were also concluded in recent weeks, with 3,100 metric tons of two grades earmarked to move from Ulsan to Mumbai and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. A 5,000-metric ton lot was also discussed for shipment from Yeosu or Ulsan to Mumbai in mid to late December. Among cargoes from other origins expected to be moving to India, there was a 3,000-metric-ton prompt lot being considered from Malacca, Malaysia, to Mumbai or Hamriyah, United Arab Emirates. About 7,000-10,000 metric tons made up of three grades were on the table to be lifted in Ruwais, United Arab Emirates, to the west coast of India in the first half of December. 

South Korean suppliers had been actively seeking opportunities to export cargoes and lower inventories to attain more balanced positions – which they appeared to have achieved. Several cargoes were expected to be concluded to Southeast Asia, Australia and the Americas. A 1,100-metric-ton lot of two grades was discussed from Onsan to Haiphong, Vietnam, at the end of November. About 3,000 metric tons were likely to be shipped from Onsan to Singapore in late Dec. A 2,000-metric-ton parcel was quoted to be shipped from Onsan to Botany Bay, Australia, in mid-December. About 7,000 metric tons were being considered for shipment to Brazil at the end of November or early December.

Asian spot base oil prices were assessed as generally steady this week on a more balanced supply and demand ratio, and crude oil trading in a narrow range. The price spreads portrayed below reflect discussions, bids and offers, as well as deals and published prices widely regarded as benchmarks for the region.

Ex-tank Singapore prices were largely unchanged from the previous week. Spot prices for the Group I solvent neutral 150 grade were assessed  at $990/t-$1,020/t, while the SN500 held at $1,100/t-$1,140/t. Bright stock was firm at $1,250/t-$1,290/t, all ex-tank Singapore.

Prices for the Group II 150 neutral were heard at $1,090/t-$1,130/t, while the 500N was unchanged at $1,120/t-$1,160/t, ex-tank Singapore.

On an FOB Asia basis, Group I SN150 was holding at $830/t-$870/t, and the SN500 at $900/t-$940/t. Bright stock prices were steady at $970/t-1,020/t, FOB Asia.

The Group II 150N was assessed at $890/t-$930/t FOB Asia, and the 500N and 600N cuts were heard at $940/t-$970/t, FOB Asia.

In the Group III segment, prices were unchanged week on week. The 4 centiStoke was holding at $1,530-$1,570/t, and the 6 cSt was gauged at $1,490/t-$1,530/t. The 8 cSt grade was hovering at $1,210-1,250/t, FOB Asia, for fully approved product.

Gabriela Wheeler can be reached directly at gabriela@LubesnGreases.com. 

Lubes’n’Greases shall not be liable for commercial decisions based on the contents of this report.

Archived base oil price reports can be found through this link: https://www.lubesngreases.com/category/base-stocks/other/base-oil-pricing-report/

Historic and current base oil pricing data are available for purchase in Excel format.

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