Base oil market participants often wish they could look into a crystal ball and anticipate what might happen in coming months, but as reality proves over and over again, it is extremely difficult-if not impossible-to predict the future.
Take last months base oil market, for example. Prices were fairly stable throughout September, following an isolated increase by Chevron in late August.
Most participants agreed that prices were not going in a clear direction. If anything, there was more of a chance for values to decline than to move up, if historical data were any indication of pricing behavior in the final quarter of the year.
Enter the picture Phillips 66 with a 10 cent per gallon increase on its API Group II 600N cut on October 4. The move left many scratching their heads as to its rationale, particularly given that Motiva had preceded it with a general decrease of its Group II postings.
Indeed, Motiva lowered its Group II base oils by 10 to 17 cents per gallon only hours before Phillips 66 publicized its increase.
Participants conjectured that rising crude oil prices, together with tight conditions for the Group II 600N cut on the back of a two-month turnaround at Chevrons Richmond, Calif., base oil plant had fueled Phillips 66s increase.
On the other hand, a lengthening Group II supply/demand balance caused by a seasonal slowdown was thought to have driven Motivas price drop.
There was also talk that deep-sea cargoes would be shipped to the U.S. and sources speculated that Motiva was hoping to make U.S. prices less attractive for imports.
While explanations and conjectures may vary-with some making more sense than others-one thing seems to be clear: There is no crystal ball or magic board that can predict how the market is going to react, and the best strategy is to remain flexible and resilient to deal with any eventualities.