London — A mix of bullish and bearish factors is at play over the extent of the naphtha arbitrage from Europe to Asia in August, in particular the continued strength of European product, with recent price support keeping the East-West spread fairly stable but unattractive in July.
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The August East-West spread -- the premium of the CFR Japan naphtha cargo swap over the CIF NWE equivalent – was assessed at $12.75/mt at the July 30 Asian close, averaging $12.83/mt for July to date. The equivalent spread was assessed at the European close on the same day at $14.25/mt. This was mainly due to a sharp decline in European naphtha prices following a collapse in the crude oil price complex. However, the trend for the month was similar levels to Asia, with an average of $12.90/mt in July to date.
Higher demand for lighter naphtha grades across markets
European demand, particularly for blendstock heavier grades, had significantly deteriorated due to a narrow gasoline-naphtha spread and is not expected to recover significantly in August. The gasoline Eurobob FOB ARA August contract premium over the Naphtha CIF NWE equivalent closed at 9.50/mt on July 30 and average $21.74/mt in July. By comparison, in July last year the premium averaged $127.37/mt.
"There is a possibility to export more volumes than before because European blending for gasoline reduced recently," an Asian source said.
However, demand for blendstock naphtha grades in Asia was also limited. Volumes loading in Europe heading East for August so far stood at 668,173 mt, while July total loadings stood at 1,443,685 mt. This was less than usual, while Asia is short approximately 2 million mt of naphtha monthly, imported largely from Europe but also from the Middle East and occasionally the US.
While yields were higher for open specification naphtha grades in Europe recently, there was no expected increase for these in August, leaving the key point of interest being lighter more paraffinic grades.
"Light naphtha grades are trading at a premium to other grades at the moment as they are of preference to petrochemicals producers," a European source said.
Although European petrochemicals producers still supported demand for naphtha light grades domestically despite propane pricing at a significant discount, an increasing length in the ethylene market into August could push surplus light grades on arbitrage East.
"For full range naphtha there is limited demand, and crackers prefer high paraffin even if it is more expensive because of the super good margins for ethylene and propylene, so there is no good reason to take heavier grades," a South Korean end user said.
The European naphtha market was potentially weakening despite its recent strength, which could be an overestimate of value, sources said. This was reflected in a narrowing cash differential for Naphtha CIF NWE differential against the front-month August contract, flipping negative to minus 50 cents/mt on July 30, the lowest since June 11.
Cash differentials for spot paraffinic naphtha parcels were assessed at plus $5/mt at the Asian close July 30, down $4.50/mt on the day, against benchmark Mean of Platts Japan naphtha physical, on a CFR Japan basis. It was last lower on May 29 at plus $4.50/mt.
Lower Russian exports throughout August
Russian naphtha supply is expected to remain low throughout August despite an expected increase in oil throughput following the OPEC+ agreement. Russian officials had announced lower crude and product exports in an attempt to satisfy domestic gasoline consumption, which was strengthening rapidly, particularly as travel options by car were preferred over air travel.
Naphtha grades used as gasoline blending components, particularly heavy grades but also some lighter ones, were also expected to be sold domestically. Margins, particularly for complex refineries, were at sustainable levels, supporting gasoline production in particular, as heavier oil grades were competitive against lighter grades. Refining margins in Europe, however, were still poor across the barrel.
"Margins on complex refineries are good in Russia right now," another European source said.
Naphtha volumes loading in August with a European destination totaled around 26,504 mt so far, and for an Asian destination about 254,110 mt, according to data intelligence firm Kpler. Total volumes loaded from Russian ports moving to Europe in July totaled 564,341 mt to date, and 290,073 to Asia, with most volumes arriving in Europe loading at Russian Baltic ports and the majority moving East at Russian Black Sea ports, Kpler data showed. However, naphtha loadings East for August so far ex-Black Sea ports stood at 173,335, while for July total loadings were around 448,933 mt.
"The two main reasons for fewer Black Sea export volumes are domestic [Asian] gasoline blending demand and reduced refinery runs, and while refinery runs have not recovered, gasoline demand is less," another Asian source said.