Sunday, 09/13/2020

The economics for U.S. LNG entered new territory this year, as price spreads to international destinations, particularly from the Gulf Coast export terminals, went from an average $4-8/MMBtu a couple of years ago to $1/MMBtu or less in 2020 to date. The tighter spreads reduced netbacks for U.S. offtakers and led to mass cargo cancellations this summer. Moreover, current futures curves show Henry Hub price spreads to Europe and Asia staying mostly in the $1-$3/MMBtu range over the next few years, suggesting that the arbitrage for U.S. LNG exports, particularly from the Gulf Coast terminals, likely will remain tighter and make commercial decisions to lift or cancel U.S. cargoes much more nuanced than they ever were before. Today, we delve into the primary cost components that factor into offtakers’ netbacks.

Thursday, 02/13/2020

On January 1, 2020 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implemented new fuel standards for oil-powered vessels, except those equipped with exhaust scrubbers to remove pollutants. In the absence of a scrubber, the IMO 2020 rule stipulates that ships' bunkers contain less than 0.5% sulfur. Using a scrubber allows the vessel to burn cheaper high-sulfur fuel. Last March, a shipowner’s estimated $2.5 million scrubber investment for a 2-MMbbl Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) would take just over three years to recover, based on average fuel prices during the first quarter of 2019. This year, barely a month after the new regulation came into force, the payback period has shortened dramatically, to less than a year, though the coronavirus’s effect on shipping demand and fuel prices, among other factors, could again put payout timing at risk. Today, we look at changing price spreads between high-sulfur and low-sulfur bunker and the scrubber payback economics that suggest a rosier outlook for vessel owners who invested in scrubber installations, at least for now.

Wednesday, 12/25/2019

It’s been more than three years since the International Maritime Organization (IMO) fully committed to the January 1, 2020, implementation of IMO 2020, a rule that slashes the allowable sulfur content in bunker fuel used in the open seas around most of the world from 3.5% to only 0.5%. There’s been a lot of angst in the interim, most of it regarding the changes in crude slates, refinery operations and fuel blending needed to meet a flip-of-a-switch spike in global demand for low-sulfur bunker. Also, shippers worried that prices for rule-compliant fuel would go through the roof. Well, it turns out that the transition period in the months leading up to the IMO 2020 era has been largely drama-free. Supplies of very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) and marine gasoil (MGO) — the bunker most ships will now use — have been building in most places, prices are up but moderating, and while there may be a few hiccups as ships shift to new, cleaner fuels, life will go on. Heck, life will likely be even better for most complex U.S. refineries, which can churn out large volumes of low-sulfur refined products and which will have access to price-discounted high-sulfur “resid” as an intermediate feedstock. Today, we take a big-picture look at the global bunker market as IMO 2020’s implementation day approaches.

Sunday, 03/31/2019

Some shipowners plan to comply with the IMO 2020 deadlines for limiting sulfur in ship emissions by installing scrubber devices to clean the exhaust generated by burning less expensive high-sulfur bunker fuel. For many, this may work out to be more economical, at least in the interim, than using more costly IMO 2020-compliant fuel with sulfur content of no more than 0.5% or converting the vessel to run on an altogether different fuel such as liquefied natural gas. However, narrowing “sulfur spreads” this year have put that compliance strategy at risk by tripling the time it would take for shipowners to recoup their scrubber investments. Today, we continue an analysis of the changing economics of scrubber installation in the run-up to IMO 2020.

Sunday, 03/17/2019

Last year, the impending implementation of International Maritime Organization’s rule mandating the use of lower-sulfur marine fuels starting January 1, 2020, widened the price spread between rule-compliant 0.5%-sulfur bunker and the 3.5%-sulfur marine fuel that has been a shipping industry mainstay. Traders’ thinking was that demand for high-sulfur bunker would evaporate in the run-up to IMO 2020, as the new rule is known. But since early January, the spread between low- and high-sulfur fuel at the Gulf Coast has narrowed from nearly $11/bbl to less than $2/bbl. The culprit is a shortage of heavy-sour crude caused by a number of factors. Today, we begin a two-part series on low-sulfur vs. high-sulfur fuel and crude values as IMO 2020 approaches.

Wednesday, 01/02/2019

The implementation date for IMO 2020, the international rule mandating a shift to low-sulfur marine fuel, is less than 12 months away. It’s anyone’s guess what the actual prices of Brent, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and other benchmark crudes will be on January 1, 2020, or how much it will cost to buy IMO 2020-compliant bunker a year from now. What is predictable, though, is that the rapid ramp-up in demand for 0.5%-sulfur marine fuel is likely to affect the price relationships among various grades of crude oil, and among the wide range of refined products and refinery residues — everything from high-sulfur residual fuel oil (HSFO, or resid) to jet fuel. The refinery sector is in for an extended period of wrenching change, and today we conclude our blog series on the new bunker rule with a look at the structural pricing shifts needed to support the availability of low-sulfur marine fuel.

Tuesday, 12/11/2018

The IMO 2020 rule, which calls for a global shift to low-sulfur marine fuel on January 1, 2020, is likely to require a ramp-up in global refinery runs — that is, refineries not already running flat out will have to step up their game. Why? Because, according to a new analysis, the shipping sector’s need for an incremental 2 MMb/d of 0.5%-sulfur bunker less than 13 months from now cannot be met solely by a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate changes and refinery upgrades. The catch is, most U.S. refineries are already operating at or near 100% of their capacity, so the bulk of the refinery-run increases will need to happen elsewhere. Today, we continue our look into how sharply rising demand for IMO 2020-compliant marine fuel may affect refinery utilization.

Tuesday, 12/04/2018

The planned shift from 3.5%-sulfur marine fuel to fuel with sulfur content of 0.5% or less mandated by IMO 2020 on January 1, 2020, will require a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate changes, refinery upgrades and, potentially, increased refinery runs, not to mention ship-mounted “scrubbers” for those who want to continue burning higher-sulfur bunker. That’s a lot of stars to align, and even then, there’s likely to be at least some degree of non-compliance, at least for a while. So, what’s ahead for global crude oil and bunker-fuel markets — and for refiners in the U.S. and elsewhere — in the coming months? Today, we continue our analysis of how sharply rising demand for low-sulfur marine fuel might affect crude flows, crude slates and a whole lot more.

Sunday, 11/25/2018

The planned implementation date for IMO 2020 is still more than a year away, but this much already seems clear: even assuming some degree of non-compliance, a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate shifts, refinery upgrades and ship-mounted “scrubbers” won’t be enough to achieve full, Day 1 compliance with the international mandate to slash the shipping sector’s sulfur emissions. Increased global refinery runs would help, but there are limits to what that could do. So, what’s ahead for global crude oil and bunker-fuel markets — and for refiners in the U.S. and elsewhere — in the coming months? Today, we discuss Baker & O’Brien’s analysis of how sharply rising demand for low-sulfur marine fuel might affect crude flows, crude slates and a whole lot more.

Thursday, 01/12/2017

Shipping companies now know that within three years all vessels involved in international trade will be required to use fuel with a sulfur content of 0.5% or less—an aggressive standard, considering that in most of the world today, ships are currently allowed to use heavy fuel oil (HFO) bunker fuel with up to 3.5% sulfur. This is a big deal. Ships now consume about half of the world’s residual-based heavy fuel oil, but starting in January 2020 they can’t—at least in HFO’s current form. How will the global fuels market react to a change that would theoretically eliminate roughly half the demand for residual fuels? How will ship owners comply with the rule? What are their options? Today we discuss the much-lower cap on sulfur in bunker fuels approved by the International Marine Organization, and what it means for shippers and refineries.