Houston — Rates in the Americas clean tankers market for vessels leaving the US Gulf Coast in early December are up to multi-year highs after US Gulf Coast-Caribbean and USGC-East Coast Mexico routes were assessed at levels last seen in 2015.
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On Tuesday, sources in both US refined product and shipping markets said this was mainly because of robust USGC gasoline exports, which is borne out in data from the US Energy Information Administration.
"Barrels need to be moved, and these relets and owners need to make up for the disastrous summer," a shipbroker said. "All of the barrels in the tanks need to be exported due to tax reasons, so there are still legs to all of this."
A gasoline trader had a similar take on the situation: "Freight has been very expensive for sure, exports have to be part of it."
Stronger clean tanker costs are evident when viewing a number of routes in the Western Hemisphere. S&P Global Platts assessed freight on the USGC-East Coast Mexico voyage at lump sum $500,000 on December 5. The highest the route had been assessed at was lump sum $575,000 on September 17, 2015. On Tuesday, Platts assessed freight on the USGC-East Coast Mexico route at lump sum $500,000.
The USGC-Caribbean voyage also reached multi-year highs in December, with prices not seen since Platts began assessing the route on September 1, 2015.
Platts assessed the USGC-Caribbean route at lump sum $825,000 on December 4. The previous record for the run was set on September 16, 2015 at lump sum $800,000. Platts assessed freight on the USGC-Caribbean voyage at lump sum $825,000 on Tuesday.
A USGC gasoline trader said strong exports from the region were probably the main cause for the increase in rates. A shipowner agreed with this. "There has been an increase in cargoes, that is what has triggered all of this activity," he said.
This explanation gels with data from the EIA, which show that US gasoline exports had a watermark month in November.
No data has been published for December, but in the two weeks that ended November 30, US gasoline exports topped the 1 million b/d level, the first time that has happened for any two weeks in November in data going back to 2010.
Before last month, there were only two November weeks on record when US exports breached 1 million b/d. US gasoline exports in November averaged 921,750 b/d, up about 140,000 b/d from the month's prior three-year average.
In Mexico, the world's largest buyer of US gasoline, November import data has not been published by the Energy Secretariat (SENER). However, available data show Mexican gasoline imports averaged 591,000 b/d in the first 10 months of 2018, the highest that figure has ever been.
While data for Mexico's gasoline imports are not available for either November or December, another US gasoline trader said he expects Mexico's thirst for US fuels to remain acute as the year comes to an end.
"PMI [the marketing arm of Pemex] has been doing heavy buying for December, their main buying month for holiday demand," the source said.
SENER data show Mexico's gasoline consumption almost always peaks in November or December, in contrast with the US, which sees gasoline demand peak in the summertime.
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