SSY Base Oil Shipping Report

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The U.S. has been noticeably busier and small increases in freight are starting to appear. Europe has been a little more active on coastal markets, but the overall picture is dull. Asian markets are reasonably active but freights remain depressed.

U.S. Gulf

Momentum on the U.S. Gulf-to-Far East route continues to grow, and with so many cargoes having been booked, October space is now starting to look scarce. Rates are also starting to rise, with 5,000 ton parcels from Houston to Mainport Far East going in the mid $60s per metric ton, although this could change swiftly if space tightens further. Aromatics, styrene, ethylene dichloride, phenol, acrylonitrile and ethanol are all hot right now.

Space is also quite tight on the U.S. Gulf-to-India-Middle East Gulf route and owners are talking numbers a little higher than current numbers, which are in the high $80s/t.

Transatlantic eastbound has produced a rush of styrene enquiries from which a couple of cargoes at least have been booked. As completion cargo, the rates for 5,000 ton parcels are in the low $40s/t to Rotterdam, but as stand-alone fixtures the rates are in the upper $40s/t. Some odd grades such as benzene, cumene and cyclohexane have also popped up, reflecting the ebb and flow of aromatics pricing.

The route from the U.S. Gulf to the east coast of South America is rather flat right now. Several large cargo possibilities have arisen, such as methanol, ethanol and sulphuric acid, in addition to the usual paraxylene and caustic parcels. Rates remain around the $60/t mark for 5,000 tons of easy chemicals from Houston to Santos.

U.S. Gulf-to-Caribbean routes have not been that busy and space can be secured with relative ease. Vegetable oil and tallow are among the principal grades seeking vessel space. Base oils on any of the routes out of the U.S. have been rather thin this week, apart from the delivery to Punta Cardon, Venezuela, as per the last tender.

Europe

On the coastal markets of northwestern Europe, the southbound service has picked up with a much wider range of products looking to ship, and vessel space has thinned out. In some cases, freights have firmed since the more competitive vessels were booked earlier on, leaving behind just the ships whose owners are not so flexible when it comes to negotiating cheap freights.

The inter-Mediterranean market has also seen a slight increase in trade, though not really enough to affect freights. Base oils have been active throughout, with a steady mix of spot and contractual work.

Northbound has seen regular business, mostly chemicals, biodiesel and vegetable oil, but also the occasional base oil parcel included. Rates are steady with no real movement up or down.

In the North Sea and Baltic, the market has been muted, though it is fair to say that there are not quite as many idle ships as there were ten days ago.

Transatlantic westbound has been busier, yet despite the extra demand, rates have barely ticked upward. That said, when the market was quiet, rates did not really go down quickly either. Pyrolysis gasoline and paraxylene are the main grades westbound, with some cumene and caustic as alternatives. Rates for 5,000 ton parcels from Rotterdam to Houston are in the low $40s/t.

Europe-to-Far East activity is looking pretty miserable, however. There is a lot of prompt space available, and aromatics do not work for the traders. A producer managed to book 5,000 tons of aromatics for October in the low $80s/t, and this has become the new benchmark, though with a bit of firm negotiation, it could be possible to get into the $70s/t for a firm requirement. Small parcels are generally in the $90s/t. A very small parcel of base oils from the West Mediterranean to Singapore barely scraped over $100/t.

Europe-to-India-Middle East Gulf is more exciting and there is a range of products heading in this direction. At the head of the list is ethylene dichloride, but there have been aromatics, acrylonitrile, hexane, phosphoric acid, vegetable oils, and some base oils too. Rates have mostly been in the mid-$80s/t, but several of these additional vessels do have pockets of space and may be willing to negotiate a deal for prompt loading.

Asia

On the whole, the domestic Asia market has been quiet but steady. Cargo volumes have been hit on some routes by plant stoppages, such as paraxylene shipments northbound from southeast Asia, and volatile commodity pricing has meant some aromatics cargoes have failed to materialize, but contractual volumes have continued unabated. Vessel space is mostly full for September, with owners now looking to cover the first half of October positions. Freight rates in the region are pretty stable. Base oils have continued to move out of Korea, mostly within the local Asian market as well as into the Indian Ocean and Middle East Gulf, although space in this direction is limited. Freights being seen are typically around $70/t for a small lot, down to mid-high $50s/t for a larger cargo.

Base oils have also been occurring from Southeast Asia, although often there is only one cargo stem and lots of trader freight quotations giving the impression of more business than there really is.

Base oils have also been seen on the Asia export market to Europe and Turkey. A couple of routine, scheduled base oil cargoes have been booked to Havre and Antwerp, with numbers of $125/t-130/t for the smaller lots, but so far nothing appears to have been done to Turkey. Several ships have space to Turkey, but once they are full it will be harder, since the mainstream owners do not call at Turkey on their way to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam. Benzene and biodiesel are the main grades to the U.S.

Palm oils have been busy, especially on the long-haul routes, and numbers are firm – with $80s/t and $90s/t being reported to the Black Sea, whereas a few months ago those levels were $70s/t and $80s/t.

The Middle East Gulf-India region is a lot busier these days, and prompt space is hard to find. Rates westbound have risen, with 15,000-20,000 ton slugs of methanol being booked in the $60/t-70/t region. A cargo of base oils was heard booked in the mid $80s/t to Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam as well. Eastbound numbers are a bit firmer, as are shipments in the regional market.

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 fix@ssychems.com or by phone at +44 1207-507507. In the London office SSYs Panos Giannoulis can be reached at fix@ssychems.com or +44 20 7977 7538 and in Singapore Jordi Maymi at +65 6854 7127.

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