The Complexities of the IMO 2020 Sulphur Rule on Bunker Fuels

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The Complexities of the IMO 2020 Sulphur Rule on Bunker Fuels

The latest environmental legislation on shipping and the looming 2020 rule on bunkers will be a central point of discussions which are expected to be held in Athens over the course of the next couple of weeks. In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Intermodal noted that “among several hot topics that will be discussed during the Posidonia week, the International Maritime Organization regulation that will be enforced on Jan 2020 and calls for ships to reduce the maximum sulphur content of their fuels to 0.5 percent, will definitely be on the spotlight. The fuel discussion becomes even more interesting following the recent oil rally that drove global benchmark Brent to the highest level late 2014, near 80usd last week before settling back to around 75usd.

Intermodal said that “according to Morgan Stanley’s latest report, besides key fundamentals and political externalities, oil prices will be severely impacted as new international shipping regulations takes effect, overhauling the types of fuels produced by refiners, and will push Brent crude reaching $90 a barrel by 2020. An increase in demand of low sulphur fuels will hike demand of middle distillate products (diesel and marine gasoil), that will result a significant need for more crude; this will drive crack spreads higher and will boost oil prices. Consequently, several hybrid fuels (Ultra low sulphur Fuel oils) will be marketed by refineries and traders; however they have several red flags (compatibility issues among others). Hence, it seems very unlikely that refiners, traders and bunker suppliers will manage to market a “one spec fits all” low sulphur fuel oil product. This will create an oversupply of high sulphur fuel oil that is expected to put pressure on refineries to produce more distillate fuels”.

According to Mr. Ilias M. Lalaounis, SnP broker with Intermodal, “data from the report suggests that middle distillate markets are already pretty tight in matters of supply; i.e. diesel and gasoil stockpiles in key storage hubs in Europe, the U.S. and Asia are currently below their 5-yr seasonal averages. At the same time, demand for these distillates is growing annually by 600k barrels/day since 2011, accelerating to 800,000 barrels/day in recent quarters. According to recent studies, the IMO regulation is expected to boost demand by an additional 1.5 million barrels/day by 2020, which should boost crude prices. While global crude production will most likely rise, it probably won’t increase by the 5.7 million barrels/day needed by 2020 to meet the additional demand for fuels. Since current fundamentals as well as the IMO regulation impact point to higher bunker prices, speed & consumptions of ships are once again on the spotlight. Consequently, the instalment (or not) of scrubbers is already a big debate among owners and charterers. If the above analysis is proven correct, and a sudden increase in demand of middle distillates is combined with tight distillate product supply as well as high crude oil prices and an oversupply of high sulphur fuel oil, then the price differential between low sulphur marine gasoil and high sulphur fuel oil will be definitely significant. The question is how long will a large price gap exist for and if it will suffice for the payback of the initial investment cost to install a scrubber. In other words, will this price differential incentivize refiners to invest in high cost cocker installations and upgrade their current infrastructure and how long will this process take”.

Lalaounis added that “amid the high cost of bunkers post 2020, charterers will most likely request owners to slow steam; whereas ships with scrubbers will enjoy the flexibility and maximize ton-mile revenue. Similarly, if the majority of the fleet is slow steaming, and in combination with a possible increase of scrapping tonnage that can’t adapt on the new environmental regulations, we see less vessels competing over cargos; that will probably drive the market upwards. All in all, although the advantages of installing scrubbers especially on thirsty ships are clear, we see only a few owners and newbuilding orders that include scrubbers on board, with the vast majority of orders being “scrubber ready”. Our feeling is that due to current market condition, most owners adopt a “wait and see approach” and currently hold their horses”, he concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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