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Refiners are enjoying the highest premium for fuel oil in two years thanks to tighter supply resulting from lower Russian shipments of the heavy product, Bloomberg has reported, citing data from Asia.
According to the report, the normally unattractive oil product, which is also among the cheapest products from a barrel of crude, has suddenly become attractive as the supply of fuel oil from Russia has shrunk considerably because of Western sanctions on Moscow.
The surge in natural gas prices has also helped significantly, prompting some utilities to switch to fuel oil from natural gas because of the price difference, the report also noted.
The U.S. ban on Russian oil and products has been another contributor: because of the ban, some fuel oil cargoes from the Middle East that would have normally gone to Asia are now going to the United States, limiting the availability of the fuel in the biggest consuming region.
The latest price trends in crude oil and fuels have pushed the profits of Asian refiners to record highs, Reuters reported last month. Strong demand during holiday season as Asian economies return to normal after pandemic lockdowns has provided substantial support to demand, and so have exports to Europe, to make up for sanctioned Russian oil.
The flip side, according to the report, is that many refiners were running at capacity in April already in a bid to squeeze out the last additional dollar from the demand/supply gap. This leaves little space for production increases in any fuel or oil product.
In the U.S., refiners are also reaping the benefits of the current oil market imbalance and the reduction of global refining capacity during the pandemic, while demand has rebounded faster and stronger than expected.
European refiners seem to be the exception due to EU sanctions on Russia that are now prompting them to seek alternative suppliers of crude.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.