Gasoline premiums in the Middle East Gulf were supported this week, while traders expected the fuel oil market to stay tight for at least another month on the back of weaker Iranian exports.
The Iranian volumes, which jumped to a record high of 1.2 million tonnes for June arrivals and had averaged 550,000-600,000 per month up to this month, have fallen to less than 200,000 tonnes for August arrival, due to disruptions to its natural gas supplies.
"I don't see the market improving much until [the] end [of] August," one fuel oil trader said. He quoted premiums for 380 centistoke (cst) cargoes at $11 (Dh40.4) a tonne over Middle East spot quotes from $7 to $8 a tonne last week.
The shortfall has also resulted in less Middle East inflows into East Asia next month as players in the region, with better freight economics, compete for supplies.
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Middle East players might take up volumes from Saudi Arabia as well, with two cargoes of 90,000-95,000 tonnes each loading in August, offered on Monday.
Another three were rare low-viscosity, low-density parcel lots, loading July 18 to August 3, from Aramco's Rabigh plant, that became available because of an outage at its gasoline-making unit.
All are remaining in the Middle East.
Fuel oil traders in the Gulf do not see more cargoes coming out of Rabigh, where the outage has helped boost Aramco's gasoline purchases, which are already high in the summer.
"I am hearing they have bought four cargoes for August and that could be it," one gasoline trader said. "The rumour previously was that Aramco was going to buy eight," he said.
The state oil giant is a regular buyer of gasoline and it has lifted around 16 cargoes in June, both to stock up ahead of Ramadan that is due to start in August and on Rabigh outage.
In July, traders estimate it bought 10-12 cargoes.
Saudi-based PetroRabigh delayed the restart of its fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCC) at the 400,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) refinery to the end of July from a previous plan of mid-July.
"For gasoline demand in the region, there isn't much spot buying going on, all covered via term [contracts]," one gasoline trader said, adding he did not see Aramco buying more cargoes.
He pegged premiums for 95 RON gasoline at $120 a tonne, pretty much unchanged from last week while another one said it was around $110 a tonne.
"Gasoline/naphtha spread has narrowed since last week," the second trader said.
Asia's naphtha price and cracks fell to a four-session low on Wednesday after another fire was likely to delay the restart of a cracker at Asia's top naphtha buyer Formosa.
"Naphtha is weak especially in the East," one trader said.
"There was another fire at Formosa, which means even less demand now," he added.
Naphtha prices in the region and in Asia had been depressed following Taiwan's Formosa, Asia's top naphtha buyer, shutting a cracker in May.
Demand for low sulphur gas oil was lacklustre and premiums for 500 ppm hovered around $3 a barrel, a middle distillates trader said.
Indonesia said it would import 570,000 barrels of jet fuel in August in a rare move, but traders did not see a major impact on prices.