A long holiday weekend in the U.S., celebrations to mark the end of Ramadan in many countries and very poor demand elsewhere has meant that little has been accomplished this week.
As was to be expected, styrene has been the flavor of the week on routes to the Far East, with some 25,000-35,000 tons fixed over the past couple of weeks, with levels reported to be in the mid- to high $60s per metric ton to the Korea/Taiwan area, and low $70s/t to Mid China for 5,000-ton parcels. The action is expected to last through August.
Ethylene dichloride has also been filling up ships, with at least 30,000 tons fixed for July loading already. Ethanol is there to be worked as well. Rumors have started to circulate of base oils being booked to Asia, too. With all this activity, July space is starting to look a bit tighter.
In transatlantic trade, it has emerged that a ship has just loaded a large chunk of base oils in Paulsboro, New Jersey, for Europe, and a further large cargo is under consideration from Paulsboro and the U.S. Gulf to Europe for July.
Space for loading in the first half of July has become quite scarce, and any cargo that requires specific dates might find itself seeing rates above the current mid- to high $50s/t that a 5,000-ton parcel from Houston to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, would normally be expected to fetch. There is supposed to be more space available for later July loading, though.
Base oils are back in contention again on routes to India and the Middle East Gulf, with one larger cargo reportedly fixed and several more being quoted. Ethylene dichloride has been spoken about too, and traders are beginning to look at some larger lots of ethanol.
The route to the Caribbean is reckoned to be rather slow currently and vessel space is beginning to accumulate. Rates are pretty routine, with 3,000-ton parcels from the U.S. Gulf to Jamaica hitting the mid- to high $40s/t, for example. Some caustic has been booked into Rio Haina, Dominican Republic, but a small parcel of 600 tons of chemicals remains uncovered. The base oil tender into Punta Cardon, Venezuela, has been revised to a more manageable volume, requiring 23,000 tons to be delivered in July or August, some of which could feasibly come out of the U.S.
All owners report having July space at this stage on the southbound route to South America. Rates have been done in the low- to mid $60s/t for 4,000-ton parcels from the U.S. Gulf to northern Brazil. Base oil activity has been rather sparse in this direction.
It has been another slow week in the North Sea and Baltic region with too many ships for comfort squeezed into the area, a number of which do not really belong there, but because of a lack of deep-sea cargoes, their owners are having to scavenge for whatever they can pick up. Rates are under continuous downward pressure. Base oils have been busy again from the Baltic, though.
Southbound spot opportunities have been infrequent over the past week, ensuring that rates are more keen than usual. Owners have been relieved to see a bit more FAME moving into the Mediterranean, and there have been useful cargoes of sulphuric acid, ethyl acetate, polyol, methanol, acetic acid, styrene, acetic acid and even some base oils, yet even more volume will be needed to give full employment to all the ships.
On northbound routes, there has been evidence of spot base oils activity with material shipped up from the East Mediterranean and Italy. The spot market is generally weak northbound and rates are soft.
Overall, it was a dull week in inter-Mediterranean markets. In the French Mediterranean, there have been a few post-strike cargoes which have been quickly fixed. Some acetic acid and FAME has been fixed out of the Black Sea into the West Mediterranean, which is a welcome sight for owners more accustomed to vegetable oil on this route. Base oil activity is still slight from that region, but there have been a couple of movements within the West Mediterranean.
Transatlantic rates remain under considerable pressure as outsiders elbow their way onto the route. For example, 5,000 tons of paraxylene was booked from Rotterdam, to Charleston, South Carolina, at $33/t, which represents a new low point so far this year. A few other paraxylene requirements have been quoted but there has been little else.
There has been no escape in the direction of the Far East for the excess tonnage that has been trapped in Europe. However, a few traders have started to ask questions about possible styrene shipments to Asia as an alternative to supply from the U.S. Gulf. On top of that, some paraxylene and mixed xylenes has been studied, although it is still early days as the cargoes probably would not want shipment until late July. Base oils are being held on a back burner.
Base oils are still under consideration in the direction of the Middle East and India, however. Ethylene dichloride, small parcels of aromatics, solvents, acetic acid, hexane and acrylonitrile have all been booked, but the excess of space in Europe is still making itself felt on the freight rates. Vegetable oil has provided some welcome relief from the Black Sea, but rates are now probably closer to $50/t than the $55/t that was done last month.
It has been another week of relative tranquillity in the local markets within Asia. There are for sure quite a lot of ships that have prompt space, and many ships have not fixed a single cargo all week. There have been instances, though, of cargoes that have been quoted but still remain unfixed a week further on.
Disparity in freight ideas is usually the cause, with charterers pressing even harder for and eventually achieving rate decreases across the board on all intra-Asia routes. Most routes have seen a reduction of at least $1/t. The situation here, as in Europe, is causing increasing concern for owners, many of whom are running their ships at levels which are either at or close to loss-making.
Few export developments occurred this week, and no new benzene, paraxylene or cumene deals were heard on transpacific shipment to the U.S. Several owners still have ships with July space as well, and with local holidays within Asia this week, there is not likely to be any change in rates, which remain weak.
The same probably applies to the route to Europe, though owners do say that for certain bits of business they can achieve near-normal levels. For instance, 3,000 tons of chemicals were booked from Nanjing, China, to Antwerp, Belgium, at $125/t for loading in early July.
Understandably it has been quiet in the Middle East during the final phases of Ramadan, with little new business being quoted for July. There have been some larger cargoes from Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to Southeast Asia for August and the flow of paraxylene from India continues unabated. The regional market remains very calm, even for the usual clean petroleum cargoes.
Westbound sees several ships struggling to fix completion cargoes back to Europe while several more regular players have not even been able to get a base cargo. Rates show further weakness as a result.
Adrian Brown is a senior market analyst for chemicals and base oils with SSY Shipbrokers, London, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 12 0750 7507. Information about SSY can be found at www.ssyonline.com. In the Houston office, Panos Giannoulis of SSY’s Chemical Tanker Department can be reached directly at email@example.com or +1 (713) 652-270 and Jordi Maymi in Singapore can be reached at +65 6854 7127.