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Feature: European bunker fuel market tightens, supply constraints may linger

London — Tight product availability -- particularly for RMG 380 CST bunker fuel -- plagued the Northwest European bunker market last week as tightness from the high sulfur fuel oil market spilled into the bunker market, which subsequently supported prices.

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Some limitations on supply may linger in both northern and southern Europe, amid refinery updates and concerns about distribution.

At the bunkering hub of Rotterdam, multiple suppliers said they were struggling to supply prompt deliveries of fuel oil, with one saying Friday that they were fully booked until Thursday.

Delivered 380 CST bunker fuel at the Dutch port was assessed at $475/mt Friday, up $13/mt on the day, with the level at the port further supported by an aggressive bid in Platts Bunkers Market on Close assessment process from Peninsula which V-Marine subsequently sold into.

Tight availabilities were also experienced at Hamburg last week, with buyers struggling to find anyone that could deliver fuel oil for prompt dates.

However, at Gothenburg, Sweden, and Skaw, Denmark, suppliers said Friday they had no issues with availability.

As a result, the spread of delivered 380 CST bunker fuel between Hamburg and Gothenburg widened $7/mt on the day Friday, with Hamburg assessed at a $8/mt premium over Gothenburg.

The tightness already present in both the NWE HSFO and bunker markets was expected to be exacerbated further over the weekend with a busy loading schedule expected at the Vopak terminal, bunker suppliers said Friday.

Further dents in availability are expected as ExxonMobil's Antwerp refinery was expected to load the final barges of RMG 380 CST Friday, taking around 200,000 mt of fuel oil out of the market, sources said. Bunker buyers in the market expected the company to continue supplying only existing contracts. ExxonMobil declined to comment.

As a result, the backwardation on the 3.5% FOB Rotterdam barge curve remains prominent.

The November-December intermonth spread last traded on the Intercontinental Exchange at $7.25/mt Monday, up $1/mt from Friday's assessment level.


The price spread between the Mediterranean HSFO market and northwest Europe has begun to narrow after hitting a near two-year discount on October 9 at minus $13.50/mt, as arbitrage exports east eat into stock levels.

The physical HSFO Med-North spread -- the differential between 3.5% Mediterranean cargoes and 3.5% FOB Rotterdam barges -- was assessed at minus $9.50/mt Friday, and players have said the active Suezmax arbitrage from the east Mediterranean has dented stocks in the Mediterranean and resulted in the narrowing of the 3.5% Med/North.

A negative Med/North makes the arbitrage from northwest Europe uneconomical to the Mediterranean, and as a result the Mediterranean has lacked adequate resupply options.

Buyers were hunting Mediterranean cargoes in the Platts Market on Close assessment process Friday; BP, Repsol, Cepsa and Peninsula were all bidding for 27,000 mt Handysize cargoes of RMG HSFO for delivery into Algeciras during the first decade of November.

Galaxy sold 27,000 mt of fuel oil to BP at a premium of $6.50/mt to the Platts 3.5% CIF Med HSFO curve for delivery into Algeciras over November 9-13.

The fuel oil paper market was also showing signs of strengthening in the Med as a result of tightness in product availability. The Med-North spread for October was assessed at minus $7/mt Friday, up $1/mt from Thursday as Sahara proved value higher with an outstanding bid in the MOC process Friday.

"The market is really short, we are not able to find barrels since all the product has gone east," a fuel oil trader said.

The arbitrage cargoes have been sold directly from the Black Sea and sometimes are topped up in Malta before being sent east. This has limited the resupply options for the West Mediterranean, where the lion's share of bunker demand lies. Some 500,000 mt of bunker fuel is sold into the bunker market at Gibraltar per month, according to industry estimates.

Bunker buyers in the region have seen some limitations on product, coming amid market reports that bunker supplier Macoil is unable to offer.

Athens-based Macoil has physical operations at Gibraltar and Malta. In 2017, it supplied 50% of the market at Gibraltar with total sales of 1.8 million mt, making it the leading supplier. It sells around 150,000-180,000 mt/month at the Mediterranean bunker hub.

At Malta, the company sells about 50,000-60,000 mt, equivalent to around 50% of the Maltese market.

Representatives of Macoil were not available for comment.


--Edited by Jonathan Fox,