With continuing tight margins, and extreme competition, specialist physical suppliers are being squeezed out of traditional, large bunkering ports, or reduced to providing just credit facilities and logistics services, noted Adrian Tolson, senior partner at 20|20 Marine Energy.
“Physical suppliers should leave the major ports for the refiners, cargo traders and those who have an obvious competitive advantage; let them focus on fuel cost minimisation, and shaving margins to a point where only the best blenders and cargo sourcers can make money,” Tolson advised.
“Physical suppliers need to stay away from major bunkering ports, unless there is a specific niche opportunity or there is a desire to run a logistics operation that is more focused on barging, rather than bunkering economics,” he added.
Singapore, Rotterdam, Fujairah and Houston are the world’s top four major bunkering hubs. Other key global bunkering ports include Antwerp, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Panama and Los Angeles/Long Beach.
“Rationalisation is the by-word in today’s bunkering industry and major physical suppliers, just like major bunker traders will have to get used to this,” Tolson said.
He explained that traders are seeing their share of the market shrink and physical suppliers are seeing their supply volumes erode as they rationalise away from the low margin, larger supply locations.
Tolson said the right strategy for independent physical suppliers will be to ensure that they have the expertise and flexibility to recognise, and then quickly move into the smaller, higher margin markets. This means capitalising on supply locations that are too small, or too complex for a cargo trader, and where the logistical margin exceeds the benefit of fuel cost minimisation.
The growing concentration of supply in major bunkering hubs is a trend that will increase as the market moves into a post-2020 supply environment, 20|20 Marine Energy pointed out.
Supply locations that lose volume to this trend, and those that have trouble meeting 2020 supply specifications, will likely become ideal supply locations for the physical specialist.