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Base Oil Report


In July 2013, almost four years to the day, I wrote the monthly base oil report and titled it No Need to Rock the Boat to reflect the sentiment of a majority of base oil producers at the time.

Prices were generally stable then, and market conditions were agreeable to a majority of participants-although buyers would have naturally been happier if base stock values had been lower.

Today, the base oil segment is experiencing similar conditions, in that posted prices have remained steady for a couple of months while spot prices have been exposed to upward pressure on tight supply, but have not oscillated significantly.

There are a few differences from four years ago, however, and fundamentals appear to have been remixed by a clever DJ to render the current situation.

Demand has been healthy throughout most of the first half of the year, but was expected to weaken once the summer driving season got underway and the busy lubricant production cycle started to wind down. This also happened in 2013-as it does almost every year-except now the supply and demand balance is not expected to ease until slightly later, perhaps in August or even September.

Aside from robust requirements, the tightness was brought on by a hectic string of plant turnarounds, with maintenance completed at the Excel Paralubes plant in Westlake, Louisiana, the Chevron plants in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Richmond, California, one of Motivas trains in Port Arthur, Texas, and an upcoming turnaround at Petro-Canada/HollyFrontiers Mississauga, Ontario, base oil unit.

Another interesting distinction: West Texas Intermediate was hovering close to $100 per barrel on July 3, 2013, but was trading near $47 per barrel in early July 2017.

While crude oil displayed sharp swings and has softened compared to earlier in the year, the strained base oil supply conditions have allowed producers to maintain prices fairly intact over the last two months, with the exception of an increase by a naphthenics producer in early June.

There is no guarantee that the situation will stay the same in coming weeks, but most participants would agree that a steady scenario provides a constructive respite to the industry, following months of fairly turbulent market conditions.

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