U.S. Base Oil Price Report


Divergent fundamentals kept the base oils market in a holding pattern, with sluggish demand offsetting the upward pressure created by firming crude oil and feedstock values.

Market participants noted that there is still plenty of competitive activity taking place in the spot arena, but no posted price changes emerged, despite rumblings that a major refiner would be adjusting postings this week.

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All eyes were on crude oil numbers, which jumped 12 percent last week – again not seen since oil prices crashed in 2014 – after OPEC members agreed to curb oil production. Combined, OPEC and non-OPEC producers accepted an output reduction of about 1.8 million barrels per day, or 2 percent of the total world output, according to Reuters.

However, oil futures slipped on Tuesday as a Reuters survey showed that OPECs output hit a record high in November, hinting that member countries could face difficulties in sticking to their plan.

West Texas Intermediate futures on the CME/Nymex settled at $50.93 per barrel on Dec. 6, up $5.70 per bbl from the Nov. 29 settlement of $45.23 per bbl.

Light Louisiana Sweet wholesale spot prices closed at $53.12 per barrel on Dec. 5, up from $47.16 a week ago, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Brent was trading at $53.93 per bbl on the CME on Dec. 6, up $7.55 per bbl from $46.38 per bbl on Nov. 29.

Despite upstream pressure, there were expectations that the current base stock market fundamentals would not see a major overhaul, with demand remaining lackluster and supply plentiful, discouraging significant price movements for the time being.

Activity was generally quiet as market players have just returned from the ICIS Pan American Base Oils and Lubricants Conference, which took place in Jersey City, New Jersey, last week.

Most discussions at the event centered on global base oil supply and demand conditions, industry innovations, and the move towards lower viscosity oils, among other topics.

Experts seemed to concur that global base oil demand will remain largely flat over the next five years, with some segments being weighed down by oversupply as new plants come on stream.

Base oils are in a current 5 million metric tons per year oversupply position, notwithstanding five recent closures and industry plant capacity utilization of approximately 70 percent, noted Geeta Agashe, president of Geeta Agashe & Associates, LLC, during her presentation at the conference.

While global base oil output continues to grow, demand from downstream lubricant applications is likely to remain flat or even contract, depending on the region, Agashe said.

According to Stephen Ames, managing director of SBA Consulting, who also spoke at the conference, the IMF forecasts sluggish GDP growth for the North American economies (the U.S., Canada and Mexico), which directly impacts lubricants demand.

Each of the three countries in North America should expect lower lubricant demand and is likely to suffer 1-2 percent annual declines; all major product categories will be impacted – the result of longer drain intervals and lubricant efficacy, Ames expanded.

While demand for certain base oils such as Group I oils will see a reduction, new requirements for fuel efficient lubricants should lead to an increase in the use of higher quality base oils, especially Group III and polyalphaolefins (PAO). North America relies on imports for the vast majority of its 1 million-plus tons per year of Group III needs, Ames emphasized.

On the other hand, the Middle East will be a net exporter of Group III base oils and will use a lot more Group II oils internally, Agashe noted. Asia will need to use more Group II and III products internally as well, as demand will drop in Europe and other export destinations, including the Middle East.

In other industry news, white oils, process oils, lubricants, petrolatums and microcrystalline wax producer Sonneborn was heard to have returned to full production at its Chemical Plant in Petrolia, Fairview Township, Pennsylvania, as repairs have been completed following a fire and explosion near the hydrogen plant last March.

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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