Asian markets continued to see a good level of fresh enquiry and space has tightened a little. European business has also moved up a gear and on some routes it is more of a challenge to find prompt space. U.S. routes are all generally unchanged.
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It has not been such a strong start in the United States as in other areas but the overall picture is one of steady trades and a limited amount of January space. U.S. Gulf-to-Far East for instance. A prompt requirement for 10,000 tons of paraxylene from the U.S. Gulf to China is really struggling to find offers and may possibly end up on a small ship at something like $130 to $140 per ton.
Where there is space, towards the end of January and into February, owners are able to offer in the mid-high $90s/t, but the amount of enquiry surpasses the amount of readily available space and once those scheduled carriers have filled it will be up to outsiders to determine the rate levels. U.S. Gulf to India-Middle East Gulf is also busy, with some base oils talked among the enquiries of ethylene dichloride, aromatics and solvents. Freights are in the upper $90s/t basis for 5,000 ton parcels to west coast India.
Transatlantic eastbound has plenty of space among the regular players. Rates are generally steady as styrene traders have entered the market with a number of enquiries to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam. U.S. Gulf-to-Caribbean is enjoying a decent spell of activity, and rates are stable to firm. U.S. Gulf-to east coast South America too is stable. The majority of requirements are for aromatics, caustic or ethanol, and we have yet to see any base oil interest.
There have been quite a lot of spot requirements in the North Sea and Baltic, in addition to a busy contractual scene. Securing space can be an issue and has been compounded by the bad weather that caused the suspension of a number of port pilot services in the region. In the Baltic, mild sea temperatures mean that there is no ice at all in the Gulf of Finland and even in the far north there is only thin ice. It will take several weeks of constant sub-zero temperatures to cause the ice to develop which means in effect only February base oil loadings could possibly be affected, and that assumes minus temperatures both day and night.
Heading southbound into the Mediterranean, there is quite a brisk trade in chemicals as well as base oils. Rates are stable to firm at the moment and it should be possible to book 3,000 ton base oils from Rotterdam to Marmara in the low-mid $60s/t, although a growing number of owners are taking a more bullish stance and are raising their freight ideas.
Northbound has been reasonably busy too and owners are generally quoting strong numbers. Inter-Mediterranean trades are also beginning to pick up speed, and although there are still ships that can be found, many lack the approvals necessary to load base oils from the main Mediterranean suppliers. Turkish demand for base oils would seem to be a little more encouraging from what is being seen on the freight market.
Transatlantic westbound is becoming stronger day by day. The most recent fixture for 5,000 tons of aromatics from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to U.S. Gulf is in the mid $50s/t, which is a big leap from the low $40s/t being done just after Christmas. Aromatics are driving the spot demand, and what is interesting is that the number of ships that are fully open in Europe and willing to take cargo in any direction has reduced sharply over the past month. This is also having an impact on freights on the Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to Asia and Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to India-Middle East Gulf routes.
Rates from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to Mainport Far East have edged up to around $103/t for 5,000 ton parcels, but can be substantially higher if prompt loading is needed. Demand prior to the lunar holiday in China is strong, and the regular carriers are just about all full for January. Base oils are appearing for shipment into Spore. Base oils are also on the list of cargo requirements into India and the Middle East Gulf. Numbers are perhaps a little firmer too, with 5,000 ton parcels from Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam to west coast India commanding low-mid $80s/t.
It has been another week of steady spot volumes on the domestic Asia market, but nevertheless not that sufficient to soak up all the January ships, nor to cause freight rates to rise. Bad weather in parts of China is however causing some owners to re-think whether they send their ships into northern waters during the rest of the winter ice season. The reduction in available space has caused freights into those areas to firm by as much as $5/t.
Regarding Asia export markets, there are plenty of larger vessels open in the region during both January and February which are causing freight levels into the U.S. to soften. Rates to Europe and Africa however are holding steady, chiefly as a result of a slightly firmer palm oil market. Palm oils are a bit busier into India too, and at the same time there is slightly better demand for chemicals, which means that base oil shippers may see slightly stronger freights for cargoes into India and the Middle East Gulf.
Coming back out of the Middle East Gulf-India region, there has not been that much spot demand for larger cargoes eastbound which is beginning to drag down freight levels a little. Westbound demand is not that busy either but freight rates have remained stable.
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 email@example.com or by phone at +44 1207-507507. In the London office SSYs Jordi Maymi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 20 7977 7560.