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Updated to Q1 2018
Supply of Group I base oils from Iran was deemed to be healthy in the early weeks of Q1 as producers there ramped up output and took advantage of strong demand and firm prices. Supply, however, tightened as uncertainty over Iran's nuclear deal with Western nations led to declines in the Iranian currency's value and Iranian producers cut back on available spot cargoes. Nowruz holidays at the end of the quarter further curbed trade activity.
Good demand was noted in the early weeks of Q1 and prices were on a firm uptrend. However, competition from lower priced cargoes then appeared, putting pressure on Iran origin prices. Iranian producers reduced spot volume further toward the end of Q1 but by then buyers were showing strong resistance to further price increases and trade activity then faded during the Nowruz holidays at end-Q1.
Group II base oils were in severe shortage in Q1, particularly for lighter grade 150N, as most Asian refiners focused on meeting contractual obligations and had little left for the spot market. 500N availability was deemed to be longer but not by much. This came about despite the start-up of a new Group II refinery in the region, apparently as volume from the new refinery was limited.
Demand for Group II has been strong due to vehicle population growth and industrial use growth as well as the ongoing substitution trend away from older, less environmentally friendly Group I. But the shortage of available material has kept prices firm while many buyers have been showing increasing resistance to the strong price gains.
Group III base oils supply has been relatively tight through Q1. Middle East refiners have been largely focused on shipping their product to Asian markets where they receive better netbacks and consumption is stronger. Asian refiners have not offered much cargoes also to buyers in the Middle East due to expectations of weak demand.
Demand for Group III base oils has been largely weaker through Q1. Consumption of Group III in the Middle East was relatively slower compared with Asia and hence, many of the region’s main refiners were focused on exports instead of the domestic markets.
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