NEW YORK/LONDON, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Gasoline importers on the U.S. East Coast are losing the trans-Atlantic tug-of-war that has emerged this winter over European supplies, outbid by Nigerian buyers anxious to avoid another holiday shortage.
More than two-dozen clean fuel tankers have been booked from northwest Europe to West Africa over the past month, according to ThomsonReuters fixture data, and traders said new enquiries had intensified over the past several days. Tankers have also been booked with options to deliver to the East Coast or South America.
As a result, imports to the New York harbor and wider PADD 1 coastal area may fall to their lowest in over a decade, some market sources say, a drop that could help mop up a region swollen with record seasonal fuel stockpiles.
East Coast total gasoline imports fell to 274,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the week to Oct. 30, the fourth lowest in records going back to 2004, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. A further decline is expected in the next weekly data due on Thursday, according to one market source.
“West Africa bid them away,” according to the source, who has been tracking a flotilla of tankers heading to Africa.
Bookings to West Africa have shot up to as much as half a million tonnes in the past two weeks as trading houses with fourth-quarter allocations or crude-for-product swaps rush fuel to Nigeria, which was beset by gasoline shortages early this year due to the tumbling currency and tightening credit.
“There have been plenty of enquiries for November loadings - pre arrivals. They want to avoid shortage towards the end of the year by any cost,” one trader said.
The cargoes will offset months of lower gasoline imports as traders struggled to secure letters of credit and access to U.S. dollars partly brought on by delayed subsidy payments.
Last month , Nigeria issued allocations for imports of some 1.8 million tonnes of gasoline for the fourth quarter. The government in September issued additional allocations for the third quarter, which traders said went to those who fulfilled their initial allotment.
In the past, a significant portion of those allocations went unused, but traders say Nigeria is leaning on importers to make sure the country has ample supplies.
The U.S. mid-Atlantic region faces the opposite problem, with over 60 million barrels of gasoline stockpiles, some 15 percent higher than the five-year norm. GL-STK-1-EIA
That is now starting to ebb. Inventories fell by 1.29 million barrels last week, among the biggest draws in weeks, aided in part due to an unexpected outage of Monroe Energy’s main gasoline making unit at its Trainer, Pennsylvania refinery.
The 55,000 bdp unit was shut on Oct. 12 and remained down until last week. The unit went down again on Wednesday but was quickly restarted, a source said. (Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw in New York and Libby George in London; Editing by Andrew Hay)