Supply was generally balanced against product requirements in the Asian base oil market, except for a couple of pockets that were oversupplied because of seasonal shifts in demand.
Heavy-viscosity cuts typically experience weaker conditions in the fall and winter, when lubricant formulations call for lighter base oils, and this segment was therefore more exposed to downward price pressure.
Base oil grades such as API Group I solvent neutral 500 and Group II 500N underwent downward spot price adjustments in recent weeks, but were fairly steady this week.
The recent production outages in the U.S., following hurricane-related plant damages, mitigated some of the effects of the demand slowdown in Asia, particularly in regards to Group II cuts.
However, concerns over product shortages were gradually dissipating as major producers in the U.S. have resumed operations and were striving to fulfill all of their contractual obligations.
It was heard that both ExxonMobil and Motiva's base oil units in Texas were operating at close to full rates, and market sources expected the producers to be able to lift allocation programs by late November or December.
If the producers can start building inventories at that time, then more product may become available for spot export transactions, sources said. The two producers have not been able to offer much product for spot business since flooding forced their plants to shut down at the end of August.
At the same time, demand in Asia generally weakens during the last couple of months of the year as buyers try to reduce volumes in strage tanks by December so as not to finish the year with lots of inventory on their books.
Sources said demand in some Asian countries started to slow in October, which resulted in heightened availability of export cargoes. This appeared to be the case in Singapore, which exported a larger number of cargoes to other Asian countries in October, and in Indonesia, where the state-run base oil producer was heard to have offered additional Group I cargoes for export to China this month.
In Taiwan, on the other hand, Group II cargoes have tightened, and Formosa Petrochemical was heard to have reduced the number of cargoes expected to be shipped to China in November ahead of a reduction in operating rates at its base oils plant in Mailiao between November and December. The lower rates were expected to stem from a turnaround at an upstream refinery unit.
It was also heard that Hainan Handi Sunshine Petrochemical Ltd. would be temporarily closing its plant in Hainan, China, at the end of October instead of late September as previously reported. The turnaround is expected to last about three months, but it was unclear whether the shutdown was linked to the company's plan to expand its base oils facilities at the site.
Handi Sunshine announced three years ago that it would build an additional refinery in the same location as its 300,000 t/y Group II plant located on the Yangpu Peninsula. Although disputes from local residents halted progress, the company resumed the project in August 2016 with the stated intention of completing it by late 2017.
Buyers and sellers also kept an eye on developments in the Middle East, as large volumes of base oils were expected to start moving out of recently built, or expanded base oil units there.
Saudi Aramco Base Oil Co. (Luberef) is anticipated to start commercial supply of Group II base oils by late December or early January 2018, a source familiar with the company's operations noted during the 14thICIS Middle Eastern Base Oils and Lubricants conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, this month. Luberef completed an expansion at its Yanbual Bahr, Saudi Arabia, plant that added Group II capacity and increased bright stock capacity. The company aimed to stabilize output and produce on-spec Group II base oils in late November or early December, according to the source.
The Yanbu plant has capacity to produce 175,000 t/y of Group I and 708,000 t/y of Group II oils, according to Lubes'n'Greases Guide to Global Base Oils Refining.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. announced Oct. 15 that it was launching a new unified brand, bringing together its subsidiary companies under one common identity that will highlight the scale of its business, the size of its contribution to the UAEs economy, and its positive impact on the nations socio-economic development, according to a statement on the company's website.
The introduction of the revitalized brand is the latest step in ADNOCs "2030 smart growth strategy," which is maximizing value and increasing profitability as it delivers a more profitable upstream business, a more valuable and diversified downstream business, and a more sustainable and economic gas supply, the statement said.
Meanwhile, on the pricing front, numbers underwent few fluctuations in Asia this week, following a few downward adjustments the previous week.
Group I solvent neutral 150 was holding between U.S. $670 and $690 per ton ex-tank Singapore, and SN500 at $800/t-$830/t. Bright stock was unchanged at $910/t-$930/t ex-tank.
Group II 150 neutral was hovering at $680/t-$700/t, and 500N was at $870/t-$890/t ex-tank Singapore.
On an FOB Asia basis, Group I SN150 was assessed at $560/t-$580/t. SN500 cut was holding at $700/t-$720/t, FOB Asia, while bright stock was at $740/t-$770/t, FOB Asia.
Group II 150N was heard at $580-600/t, and 500N/600N grades were unchanged at $760/t-$790/t, all FOB Asia.
In the Group III segment, 4 centiStoke and 6 cSt grades were assessed at $750/t-$770/t and 8 cSt at $730/t-$750/t, FOB Asia.
Upstream, crude oil prices extended last weeks gains Monday on bullish factors such as ongoing tensions in Iraq, following conflicts between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and another decrease in the U.S. weekly count of oil rigs and shale production.
Brent futures were trading at $57.58 per barrel on the ICE on Oct. 23, according to Bloomberg Markets.
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.