Fuel Oil Soars in Tight Global Market

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The global refining crunch has sent product prices to stratospheric heights, including the price of fuel oil, which was a mainstay of Russian exports. Shipping fuel prices East of Suez are soaring on supply tightness. Refiners in Asia are making over $141 selling a barrel of very-low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO), the most straightforward option to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s 0.5% sulfur cap on bunker fuel that came into effect in 2020. At more than $50 per barrel, margins for low-sulfur bunker fuel in Asia are more profitable than gasoline. The so-called hi-five or “scrubber spread” between VLSFO and its higher-sulfur alternative has reached a record $500 per ton in Singapore, the world’s largest bunkering hub. This is well above the $100/ton that shipping analysts consider the tipping point for installing a gas exhaust scrubber on vessels to run cheaper high-sulfur fuel oil (HSFO) into the engine. For now, there is ample supply of it and at less than $90/ton, it makes an attractive alternative to propel a ship. But both the ample supply of HSFO and its lower price so far were partly the effect of Russia producing and exporting more of it. With an EU ban poised to completely shut down Russian seaborne oil exports to Europe by year's end, the market could struggle to keep supply aplenty and prices low. Traders say volatility is already plaguing the prompt market. They expect competing demand from power generation to increase pressure on HSFO this summer, especially as cooling demand increases.

Oil Products, Diesel/Gasoil, Jet Fuel, Oil Supply, Oil Prices
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