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Updated to Q1 2018
US Group I base oil supply was mixed in the first quarter of 2018. Light and mid grade supply was largely balanced to requirements, with little spot business taking place in the domestic market. Spot placements into Mexico picked up near the end of the quarter, as Mexico is using light grade base stocks in its fuel mix. Group I heavy grade supply was also widely balanced to requirement in the domestic market but less of the heavy base stocks were moving into the Mexican market across the Texas border at Brownsville. A large base oil producer's refinery in the US midwest moved into a maintenance turnaround about mid-March, moving supply toward snug for some grades.
US domestic demand for Group I base oils was mostly steady in the first quarter of 2018. There is basically no demand for Group I base stocks in passenger car motor oils (PCMOs) in 2018, as lubricants for PCMOs must use the premium grade oils in order to meet regulatory stipulations. Group I base oil use in heavy duty vehicle motor oils, power generation equipment and marine applications continues to be strong. Group I base oils into the active near market at Mexico is active because Mexico has only one base oil production facility. This is at Salamanca and is a Group I only facility. But the facility does not make sufficient oil to meet Mexican requirements, keeping the flow of US Group I into that region an active exchange.
US Group II base oil supply was snug on several light grades during the first quarter of 2018 and tight for the 600 viscosity for about half of the quarter. Several operation glitches underpinned the tight 600 viscosity while good demand in the domestic market and in the export market kept light grade supply snug. By the end of the quarter both light and heavy grade supplies were basically balanced to requirements.
Group II base oil demand in the US domestic market was stable during the first quarter of 2018, recovering from unexpectedly challenging positions from the severe weather systems that featured in the latter half of the previous year. Passenger car motor oil (PCMO) business was lower in January, which is typical for the season, but improved in February and March which kept the quarter constant on the demand side. Export business for Group II base oils remains strong and kept a steady pace in the first quarter.
Group III base oils supply in the US domestic market increased in the first quarter as PetroCanada began posting its prices and adding volume output into the North American market from its Mississagua, Canada refinery. PetroCanada’s entry into the domestic North American market underscores the growing use and importance of the Group III base oils. Prior to PetroCanada’s Group III entry, all US Group III base oils were imported. Imports also increased in the first quarter as ADNOC solidified its position in the North American market. Motiva announced it would produce commercial volumes of Group III base oils, also adding to the supply growth in Q1.
US domestic demand for Group III base oils increased in the first quarter of 2018 as more of the premium oils are needed in order to obtain top performance from new engine designs. New engine designs require the light viscosities of Group III base oils for most passenger car motor oil (PCMO) finished lubricants. The move to the lighter viscosity oils has been evolving for several years, becoming an important shift in the late 2017 US domestic market and more entrenched in 2018.
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