Jet fuel woes set to linger as coronavirus sickens global aviation

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Already-battered jet fuel refining margins in Asia may come under further pressure in coming months as global airlines suspend more flights and more passengers cancel travel plans due to the widening spread of the coronavirus.

The Asian jet fuel market has already suffered unprecedented losses this year due to the virus, which has caused dozens of airlines to suspend scores of flights, affecting the travel plans of millions of people.

The resulting drop in fuel demand had knocked Singapore jet fuel prices more than 30 percent lower by the end of February from the start of 2020, and caused Asian refining profits or cracks JETSGCKMc1 to collapse by over 50%, Refinitiv Eikon showed.

(Graphic: Asian jet fuel woes set to linger as coronavirus spread causes more flight suspensions: )

“The coronavirus outbreak has hampered jet fuel demand in Asia and the impact is expected to linger for a few more months,” said Sri Paravaikkarasu, director for Asia oil at consultancy FGE.

“It’s indeed an unprecedented fall since the global financial crisis... Jet fuel cracks have fallen to about $8 per barrel and we think it will stabilise around these levels in the next few months before seeing a recovery in the third quarter.”

With the virus now prevalent in more than 60 countries and all continents outside Antarctica, additional flight curtailments are anticipated as authorities, corporations and families reduce travel in an attempt to curb further outbreaks.

The impact on jet fuel demand is expected to be more prolonged than for other fuels given the extended flight suspensions already in place and expectations that many tourists will refrain from making travel bookings while the virus continues to flare up, trade sources and analysts said.

Asia’s jet fuel demand plummeted by 740,000 barrels per day (bpd) year-on-year in February, and would remain around 620,000 bpd lower in March, according to FGE estimates.

“We do see the virus eroding jet fuel demand to some extent in the Western Hemisphere. If the demand erosion develops faster, East-West flows will come under pressure,” FGE’s Paravaikkarasu said.

Cracks for the aviation fuel, which fell to their lowest since 2009 at $6.04 a barrel over Dubai crude last week, are currently at their lowest seasonal March levels in at least a decade, Refinitiv Eikon data showed.

“People plan their travels in advance. So April is pretty much gone. Hopefully, May is going to be a turnaround from a crack perspective,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of Indian energy consultancy Trifecta.

(This story has been refiled to correct typographical error in tenth paragraph, fixes date.)

Reporting by Koustav Samanta; Editing by Gavin Maguire and Kirsten Donovan