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SINGAPORE: Asia's 0.5 percent very low-sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) front month time spread flipped back to a narrow backwardation, while the crack to Dubai crude snapped five straight sessions of declines, Refinitiv data in Eikon showed, on prospects of tightening supplies.

The tighter supply outlook comes as China's independent refineries are snapping up fuel oil, resuming imports after a nearly five-year hiatus, as Beijing's crackdown on crude oil quota trading along with new fuel taxes limit refinery feedstock options.

Five companies, including four refineries based in the Shandong province and one local trader, booked 5.2 million barrels of fuel oil from Russia and the Middle East in recent few weeks for deliveries from late June through July, four traders and two refinery officials familiar with the transactions told Reuters.

"(This) should have a trickle down effect on 0.5percent (VLSFO prices) in Singapore as the majority of these grades were going to the VLSFO bunker blend pool," said a fuel oil trader.

Meanwhile, residual fuel inventories at the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (ARA) and Fujairah storage hubs fell, while those in the Singapore hub rose, industry data showed this week.

Fuel oil stocks in the ARA refining and storage fell by 63,000 tonnes to a two-week low of 1.31 million tonnes in the week ended June 10, data from Dutch consultancy Insights Global (IG) showed.

Compared with last year, the inventories at the ARA hub were 25percent lower, but were above the five-year seasonal average of 1.17 million tonnes.

In the Fujairah hub, fuel oil stockpiles were also 5percent lower to a two-week low of 13.87 million barrels, or 2.18 million tonnes in the week to June 7 amid increased exports and firming regional utility demand.

By contrast, fuel oil inventories in the Singapore hub rose 5percent to a five-week high of 26.92 million barrels, or 4.24 million tonnes, as exports dropped. No VLSFO or high-sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) cargo trades were reported in the Singapore trading window.

Congestion at container shipping ports in southern China is worsening as authorities step up disinfection measures amid a flare-up in COVID-19 cases, causing the biggest backlog since at least 2019.

As of Friday, more than 50 container vessels are waiting to dock in the Outer Pearl River Delta, where the ports are located, according to Refinitiv data.

That compares to around 20 vessels in the same period last year and more than in February 2020 when ports were paralysed because of China's initial COVID-19 outbreak.

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