U.S. Base Oil Price Report


The U.S. base oils market is welcoming March on a positive note as a few price increases of up to 25 cents per gallon reached the market for pale oils. Suppliers happily report that demand remains on the uphill, while buyers continue to press forward with beefy orders. Overall, availability of both paraffinic and naphthenic oils are described as balanced, with only a few exceptions.

San Joaquin Refining said it plans to increase its line-up of all naphthenic base stocks prices between 20 cents and 25 cents/gal on Friday, March 2. Calumet plans to raise its pale oils by a flat 25 cents/gal across the board on Wed., March 7. Sources said they expect other naphthenic producers to follow suit, although no further price announcements emerged by late Tuesday.

It is understood that buying interest has largely kicked in and just in time for the spring fling. A few sellers mentioned orders are at or surpassing sellers’ expectations. In most cases, customer requirements are being filled without interruptions. However, it was believed that there are still a few cuts that are more difficult to source, while in other situations, a slight overhang of certain grades is detectable. It was also noted that demand for some segments remains slightly softer than expected at this juncture, although an uptick should be forthcoming within the coming weeks, sources reiterated.

API Group II heavy neutrals remain more on the tight end of the availability spectrum although light and mid vis are deemed balanced to snug. Group III grades are still considered a bit precious and there is limited to no spot activity being concluded, but contract customers are receiving their requirements, according to sources.

The Group I category is viewed as a mixed bag, with some cuts more readily available while other solvent neutrals are tight, depending on volume required, downstream application or location.

There have been some export opportunities for both naphthenic and paraffinic to have sprung up recently, say a few sources. A number of shipments are headed for Mexico and even further south, while other deep-sea opportunities opened up much further away in Asia and Europe.

While in start-up mode at the Calumet Shreveport, La., lubricants facility late last week, a small blast resulting from a boiler explosion occurred. Inside sources said that the incident was a minor event and there were no injuries. The start-up was successful and the plant did not lose any additional downtime following the explosion.

In the meantime, it was revealed that San Joaquin is expected to take its Bakersfield, Ca. refinery offline for scheduled maintenance April 1. A number of units will be shut down. The company is attempting to beef up inventories ahead of the outage, but say that this is difficult due to strong demand.

Cross Oil is still expected to take its Smackover, Arkansas refinery down for a planned turnaround in March, but a specific date has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, all eyes continue to watch upstream developments as Brent crude values, as well as WTI have shot higher. Late last week, Brent prices neared $125/bbl and WTI flirted with $110/bbl. On Monday crude shed some of its early steam.

Stronger crude values and still quite lofty vacuum gas oil numbers are keeping the attention of base oils producers, but there have been no attempts by paraffinic suppliers to raise base oils postings just yet, although some sources speculate it is only a matter of time.

Energy experts speculate that vacuum gas oil premiums over WTI may hold steady at circa $26 to $28/bbl (a level seen for much of Feb) through mid-March as several large fluid catalytic crackers (FCC) are still offline, having been brought down in late January. The main feed for FCCs is VGO. Once these FCC units (including ExxonMobil’s units in Baytown and Beaumont, Texas) come online, strong VGO consumption will resume as the season for producing gasoline will commence.

At the close of the Tuesday, Feb. 28, CME/Nymex session, front month light sweet crude oil futures ended the day at $106.55 per barrel, up 74 cents/bbl from last weeks settlement at $105.84.

Brent crude was trading at $121.73/bbl at the end of the day yesterday, up modestly by 56 cents/bbl from its week-ago level at $ 121.17. LLS (Light Louisiana Sweet) crude was trading at a premium of about $17/bbl to WTI on Tuesday.

Historic U.S. posted base oil prices and WTI and Brent crude spot prices are available for purchase in Excel format.

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