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11/9/2019 12:00:00 AM

The transitional period regarding shipping fuels, with the pending introduction of low-sulphur fuels, come 2020, has started to cause some “headaches” for ship owners. According to Intermodal’s latest weekly report, “with less than two months before the end of the year, the shipping and refining industries have already taken measures and invested to accommodate the IMO 2020 regulations. As the implementation date for the 0.5% sulphur cap approaches, the U.S. EIA expects that the swing in petroleum product pricing will be most acute in 2020 and the effects on prices will be moderate after that. However, the regulations will inevitably affect petroleum supply, demand, and trade flows on a long-term basis while shipowners, operators and charterers around the world are carefully preparing marine fuel supplies ahead”.

VLSFO is already available in various locations across Asia, Middle East, Africa and the Americas as of mid-October, while it will be made available to additional ports during November and December. Even though demand up until recently has not been as high we are now seeing both supply and demand rapidly increasing. During the first half of October, supply of VLSFO surpassed demand in many areas and as argued by suppliers, this is because ship-owners that initially wanted to start bunkering VLSFO postponed their purchases for November and December. The market disturbance caused by the transition to IMO 2020 is apparent as the supply side of HSFO has begun running down stocks. Furthermore, tank barges that have been stowing HSFO are being taken out of service to be cleaned and get readied for VLSFO or MGO.

Concurrently, suppliers and traders are reluctant to substitute HSFO stocks as they anticipate rapidly declining demand towards the end of 2019. This reduced supply capacity comes at a time when shipping still needs fuel, and the vast majority of bunker demand is still for HSFO. To conclude, the transition to the 0.50% sulphur limit will cause disruption and more volatility than usual for a while but the market will eventually adapt as it always does.