SSY Base Oil Shipping Report

It has been a fairly uneventful week across markets in the United States, Europe and Asia. Ships have generally been kept busy, while the majority of cargoes have secured space with relative ease and at freights that have not really moved one way or the other.

U.S. Gulf

Given the scale of the public holidays in Asia, it was never going to be a busy week for the Far East route, which means that there are still ships in May that need to fill out. Methanol has seen some interest again, as has ethanol to China and Southeast Asia. Several phenol parcels were worked, and some ethylene dichloride is known to have been booked for May loading. Up to 10,000 tons of paraxylene was quoted from the U.S. Gulf to China for the second half of May.

It has been somewhat steady on the eastbound route. The only styrene seen moving so far have been contractual obligations. Three thousand five hundred tons of ethanol was quoted from the U.S. Gulf to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam, and several small parcels of vinyl acetate monomer, cyclohexane and glycol have been noted. Five thousand five hundred tons of crude tall oil was booked from Charleston, South Carolina, to Pitea, Sweden, reportedly for mid $90s per metric ton. Five thousand tons of cumene concluded from the U.S. Gulf to Venice, and 3,000 tons of cyclohexane from Port Arthur to Castellon, Spain, is believed to have been fixed on subjects. Confirmation has been received of an earlier shipment of base oils from Baytown, U.S., that is due into Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam in mid-May.

Business into the Caribbean has been patchy this week. Various shipments of urea ammonia nitrate and clean petroleum have been booked from the U.S. Gulf to Lakes, and some sulphuric acid has been sent down from Canada to the U.S. Gulf. Eleven thousand tons of caustic was quoted from the U.S. Gulf to Venezuela, and there has been an array of vegetable oil and tallow possibilities.

Slightly more enquiry was noted this week along the route into the east coast of South America. Nine thousand tons of base oils were quoted from Houston to Brazil for late May shipment. Several ethanol possibilities to Brazil have been aired for May and June, while 10,000 tons of paraxylene was noted from U.S. Gulf to Suape, Brazil, for the second half of May. Seventeen thousand tons of vegetable oil was fixed from the U.S. Gulf to Callao, Peru, for the second half of May in the high $30s/t, with a similar shipment booked for the first half of June. The report would be incomplete without mention of caustic to Brazil, and this week there was a requirement to ship 7,000 tons to Munguba, Brazil, from the U.S. Gulf.

Apart from some ethanol being worked to India, there has not been anything else really discussed into India or the Middle East Gulf this week.

Europe

It has been a little surprising that, in light of all the public holidays in Europe that most vessels are fixed ahead with a degree of comfort along the North Sea and Baltic route. Rather unsurprisingly though is that rates have stayed very competitive throughout as owners strive to keep their ships moving, and have not quibbled greatly about freight levels. Base oils have been fairly active, with a succession of shipments down from the Baltic, as well as intra-North Sea and also back up into the Baltic.

All in all, the southbound route is performing fairly well, and there is quite some business to be had. Base oils continue to generate some interest, mostly with smaller parcels into the East Mediterranean, although 6,300 tons were fixed from Fawley, U.K., to Vado, Italy, with another similar cargo already being quoted for shipment later in the month. Requirements to move styrene, acrylonitrile, caustic, ethanol, sulphuric acid, methanol, biodiesel and ethylene dichloride have all been noted this week.

Northbound business has been pretty steady over the course of the week. Four thousand tons of base oils were booked from Augusta, Sicily, to Rotterdam, and there have been a series of biodiesel movements from the Adriatic and West Mediterranean up to Continental Europe. Pyrolysis gasoline continues to elicit interest from traders, with shipments from Berre, France, Rijeka, Croatia, and Aliaga, Turkey, noted.

Owners have again managed to avoid having many prompt open positions this week, thanks to a steady stream of requirements that have gobbled up the available space along the intro-Mediterranean route. It has been an eclectic mixture of grades and commodities, but base oils have had a reasonable share. The base oils have been directed to traditional hotspots, such as Egypt, Greece, Israel, Tunisia and Morocco.

Transatlantic space has finally begun to thin out for the first half of May, with many of the requirements from the past couple of weeks having been covered. Rates have stayed roughly unchanged - 5,000 tons of paraxylene from Rotterdam to the U.S. Atlantic Coast, for instance, fetched high $30s/t, with the next lifting already quoted for late May. Thirteen thousand tons of ETBE from Rotterdam to Houston was an interesting quotation, and several new caustic possibilities have appeared.

There is a minimal amount of space into the Far East left in May among the scheduled carriers. Twelve thousand tons of base oils were worked from Augusta to Singapore, but for some reason the fixture did not complete. Instead, there has been a large cargo of base oils to be moved from the Black Sea to Singapore. Another base oil cargo has still to be fixed from Antwerp to Singapore and Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

The parcels trade is reasonably buoyant at the moment, which is keeping freight levels into India and the Middle East Gulf stable. Several small parcels of base oil have been discussed from Leixoes, Portugal, and the Baltic, while more hexane has been worked from the Black Sea. Some solvent naphtha C9 was noted from Algeciras, Spain, and a parcel of acrylonitrile was worked to Kandla, India, from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam.

Asia

Most domestic ships are managing to keep a week or two of forwards employment in hand, which sounds satisfactory, but in this region it is customary for owners to have their ships scheduled even further ahead, and, consequently, many view the market as weak. In Northeast Asia, demand is fairly robust, with multiple quotations of toluene, benzene, styrene, solvent naphtha C9, C5, base oils, glycols, mixed xylenes, methyl tertiarybutyl ether and ethylene dichloride. Paraxylene may be missing from the spot enquiry lists, but contractually there are numerous shipments, with 60,000 tons loading from Daesan, Korea, alone over the course of the week. Base oils have also featured on the southbound route, but elsewhere they have not been that active.

There are multiple cargoes of benzene being quoted on the transpacific export route, but hardly any space remains for them until mid-June. Rates are notionally unchanged, for example low $50s/t for 5,000-ton parcels from Korea to Houston, but these levels could be challenged should an outsider decide to go on berth. In addition to benzene, there are several cargoes of base oil and paraxylene to the U.S. Gulf that are struggling to fix. Space is not widely available in May to Europe either. Biodiesel and used cooking oil are some of the main components to this trade at the moment, but another shipment of 15,000 tons to 19,000 tons of base oils is believed to have been fixed from Singapore to Rotterdam off mid-May.

A bit of a lull has again occurred in the regional markets, and there has been a handful of open positions along the India and Middle East Gulf route available to deal with the majority of cargoes. Base oils have been seen from the Red Sea ports, but not so much from Al Ruwais, U.A.E., this week. Eastbound space remains scarce through the remainder of the month, and charterers have reacted by reigning in their outstanding requirements. Westbound has also been quieter in terms of spot demand, although owners claim contractual demand to be strong.

This column originally appeared in the May 9 edition of Lube Report Americas.

Adrian Brown is a senior market analyst for chemicals and base oils with SSY Shipbrokers, London, can be reached atfix@ssychems.com or +44 12 0750 7507. Information about SSY can be found at www.ssyonline.com. In the Houston office,Steve Rosenthalof SSY's Chemical Tanker Department can be reached directly at +1 (713) 652-270 and Jordi Maymi in Singapore can be reached at +65 6854-7127.