It has been a busier week in Europe, and Asia too has encountered more demand over the past week, but the U.S. market remains resolutely flat.
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In the U.S. Gulf, the only route that has seen a slight improvement in activity levels has been the U.S. Gulf to East Coast-South America service. Along with some base oil demand, there have been enquiries for styrene, caustic, some smaller lots of clean petroleum as well as a couple of ethanol shipments. Space is now tight until the second half of March, but the additional demand has done nothing to shake freight levels which remain in the mid $70s per metric ton for 5,000 ton parcels from Houston to Santos.
Elsewhere, little is occurring on the U.S. Gulf-to-Far East service, at least in terms of aromatics. Some base oils have been detected looking to ship to China, and there have been the usual parcels of acrylonitrile, phenol, ethanol and vegetable oil. Rates are weak, and there is ample space available. A firm requirement of 5,000 tons or so to China could even be workable in the $70s/t, depending upon load/discharge ports.
Transatlantic eastbound remains sufficiently quiet that a couple of scheduled carriers have been left with prompt space. However, there are a number of small parcels around about which rates are talked at unchanged levels. A small lot of base oils is included among them.
The U.S. Gulf-to-Mexico and Caribbean market has been severely disrupted by fog in the U.S. Gulf, especially in the Houston area. So many ships and cargoes have been affected that there has been almost no spot fixing taking place over the past week. Rates remain notionally unchanged for now.
U.S. Gulf to India-Middle East Gulf continues to see some space during the first half of March, although various enquiries of base oil, chemicals and solvents are outstanding and have still to be fixed during this period, and it is expected that demand/supply will eventually become balanced.
There has been very little change in the North Sea and Baltic markets. Voyage delays are endemic and it is common to see ships taking five to six days to perform what should be a two-day voyage. Contractual nominations have also been strong, but with so many ships out of position it is common to see many of these shipments ending up on the spot market. Ice in the Baltic is restricted to mainly coastal belts, and there are few restrictions in place except for ports in the far north.
Southbound into the Mediterranean is very busy with a substantial amount of demand, including some base oils, and freights are being driven upwards. Owners who would have happily accepted $75/t for a 2,000 ton parcel to Turkey for instance are now expecting to fix in the mid $90s/t. Northbound is also strong and rates reported are also firm.
Inter-Mediterranean markets are described as very tight by many brokers, and on numerous occasions there have been prompt requirements quoted, especially in the west Mediterranean where there has not been a single ship available to offer on the cargo. Again, rates are firm and almost always showing an increase over the last-done shipment.
Transatlantic westbound is not a hotbed of activity, but nor is it flat. There have been sufficient cargoes heading over to allow owners to maintain current freight levels. Benzene, although not as fashionable as last month continues to be fixed. For example, 3,000 tons from Rotterdam to Houston was heard to have gone in the low $60s/t. Further shipments of benzene, pyrolysis gasoline, paraxylene, cumene, phenol, base oils, sulphuric acid, drilling fluid, urea ammonia nitrate and a small lot of naphtha have been seen.
The surprise cargo has to be ethanol, with a shipment being worked into Canada, another quoted to Boston, another to Jamaica and yet another to Brazil. Moreover, many scheduled owners do not have space until early April, which would suggest that freights are unlikely to decrease.
On the Europe/Asia route, there is a critical shortage of scheduled vessel space for March, and non-scheduled owners are quoting, and achieving rates in the $110-$115/t range for 5,000 ton parcels from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to China.
Europe to India-Middle East Gulf is another route which is reported to be tight on space and where freights are firm. Base oils are looking to move in this direction, but there are also a lot of other commodities, including vegetable oil, acid, ethanol and aromatics.
After a pause last week, the aromatics market into China has restarted with cargoes being imported from Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia, allowing the majority of prompt ships open in the domestic Asia market to pull forward. Freights have lifted slightly too, so that a typical parcel of 3,000 tons of easy chemicals from Singapore to Shanghai would now cost close to $55/t, while a heated parcel of base oils would command nearer $60/t.
On the Asia export market, the substantial overhang of open space in Asia has diminished somewhat. Benzene to the United States has certainly accounted for large chunks of it, with rates being in the mid-high $60s/t for 5,000t parcels from Korea to the U.S. Gulf. Other products, such as methanol, cumene and even base oils, have been reportedly worked, and not much space remains for March unless further outsiders are brought on berth.
A steady trade in solvents, acids and even base oils to Europe has eaten into the amount of space remaining to Europe. Rates of $150-$170/t are the norm for small parcels on this route.
What is dull, however, is the palm oil market, whether to India or China or the larger lots to the West. The Price Outlook event is taking place in Kuala Lumpur currently and may go some way to explaining the quietness, but palm oil demand as well as supply has changed somewhat and it may take a while for shipments to restart.
In the India-Middle East Gulf market, there is a feeling that rates have risen very slightly. On the westbound route, there have been more requirements of styrene, caustic, methanol, paraffins, linear alkyl benzene, ethanol and solvents, while eastbound has seen a couple of large mixed cargoes, as well as parcels of aromatics, paraffins, MTBE, methanol, ethanol and ethylene dichloride. Regional trades between India and the Middle East Gulf are active too, and space looks to have tightened from the region.
Adrian Brown is senior market analyst for chemicals and base oils with SSY Shipbrokers, London. Information about SSY can be found at www.ssyonline.com. Adrian Brown, in the U.K., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at +44 1207-507507.In the London office SSYs Panos Giannoulis can be reached at email@example.com or +44 20 7977 7538 and in Singapore Jordi Maymi at +65 6854 7127.