The global oil sector is struggling with unpredictability in supply and demand, but one big thing that is expected to make refineries and exporters paranoid is this: the new set of policies that will limit the usage of sulfur-laced fuels in shipping.
Analysts and investors anticipate that in less than two years, a major oil and refining companies will have embraced the new laws, but some market observers believe widespread shocks will be felt around the oil industry as soon as the new set of rules are imposed the first week of 2020.
Some market strategists have considered the new fuel shipping policies as the biggest "oil market disruptor" seen to jolt global supply routes in the shipping business, from producers of oil to traders, refineries, shippers, down to consumers.
Major shipping companies are bracing for a disturbance in the kinds of fuels they will be producing next year, but the oil market in general, including refineries, are also preparing for the worst.
Based on the new policies that will be implemented by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), less than 1% should be used on sulfur fuels on ships starting January next year, unless oil tankers are equipped with what engineers call as "scrubbers" - a technique that gets rid of sulfur from gas exhausted from bunkers.
In an interview with Forbes, Afab Salem, KPMG Risk Analytics director said that oil producers will offer arbitrage opportunities as the price margin between fuel oils with high sulfur content, and those with low-sulfur content, is projected to widen. Increased demand for very low-sulfur fuels, Salem said, will hike demand for crude grades.
According to latest estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA), global demand for high-sulfur fuels will decrease from 3.4 million (barrels per day) to 1.3 million BPD, in just 12 months. A projected 4,000 fuel ships will be outfitted with scrubbers that will consume around 700,000 BPD of fuel by end of 2020.
Meanwhile, prices of oil in the global market were up nearly 5% late Tuesday, after the United States said it would defer the implementation of a 10% tax on selected goods coming from China, alleviating worries over an extended trade showdown that has battered markets in the past weeks.
The Sino-US trade conflict has diminished demand for energy stocks, and any ray of optimism resuscitates the notion of further positive demand possibilities, John Kelduff of New York-based energy hedge fund Capital Management, said.
Brent Futures made a quick 4.6% rally early Tuesday, at $61.21 per barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude climbed 5%, at $57.12.