USGC LNG-VLSFO discount to steady itself

  • : Natural gas, Oil products
  • 24/04/23

The premium for US Gulf coast (USGC) very low-sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) to LNG is expected to linger but not widen this spring, maintaining interest in LNG as a bunkering fuel.

US Gulf coast LNG prices slipped from a premium to a discount to VLSFO in March 2023 and have remained there since. The discount surpassed 200/t VLSFO-equivalent in January (see chart). Both LNG and VLSFO prices are expected to remain under downward pressure due to high inventories, which could keep the current LNG discount steady.

The US winter natural gas withdrawal season ended with 39pc more natural gas in storage compared with the five-year average, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Henry Hub natural gas monthly average prices dropped below $2/mmBtu in February, for the first time since September 2020, Argus data showed. The EIA expects the US will produce less natural gas on average in the second and third quarter of 2024 compared with the first quarter of 2024. Despite lower production, the US will have the most natural gas in storage on record when the winter withdrawal season begins in November, says the EIA. As a result, the agency forecasts the Henry Hub spot price to average less than $2/mmBtu in the second quarter before "increasing slightly" in the third quarter. EIA's forecast for all of 2024 averages about $2.20/mmBtu.

US Gulf coast VLSFO is facing downward price pressure as demand falls and increased refinery activity signals a potential supply build. Rising Gulf coast refinery activity was likely behind some of the drop in prices. Gulf coast refinery utilization last week rose to 91.4pc, the highest in 12 weeks and up by 0.9 percentage points from the prior week. US Gulf coast suppliers are also eyeing strong fuel oil price competition from eastern hemisphere ports such as Singapore and Zhoushan, China, importing cheap Russian residual fuel oil.

In general, LNG's substantial discount to VLSFO has kept interest in LNG for bunkering from ship owners with LNG-burning vessels high. The EIA discontinued publishing US bunker sales statistics with the last data available for 2020. But data from the Singapore Maritime & Port Authority, where the LNG–VLSFO discount widened to over $200/t VLSFOe in February, showed Singapore LNG for bunkering demand increase 11.4 times to 75,900t in the first quarter compared with 6,700t in the first quarter of 2023 and 110,900t for full year 2022.

US Gulf coast LNG vs VLSFO $/t VLSFOe

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