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Upward correction will take oil to $60: Bunker supplier

Genoa-based bunkering firm Fratelli Cosulich believes that global oil markets are poised for a rise, after a persistent slump halved prices from a year ago.

"Oil prices will see a correction upwards, not a major one, but I think the oil price will still be around the $60 mark, likely between $50 and $60 in the medium to long term," Timothy Cosulich, CEO of the 158-year-old Italian company, told CNBC's "Managing Asia."

To be sure, "big uncertainties" such as a historic nuclear agreement struck in July which could flood the market with Iranian crude, will continue to cast a shadow on energy markets.

"[Iranian sanctions] will be lifted [but] when exactly that will be implemented is a bit more uncertain. And what's more uncertain is how the decision will impact oil prices because suddenly there's a lot of quantity and fuel coming online," the sixth generation leader of Fratelli Cosulich said.

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When that happens, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) may be forced to cut production in order to halt the prolonged slump in energy prices, Cosulich added.

Bogged down by a host of concerns including a supply glut, sluggish demand and a strong U.S. dollar, oil prices have been in free-fall since June 2014. Worries over a slower-growing China have exacerbated declines in recent weeks.

U.S. crude closed down 0.6 percent to $46.38 a barrel on Thursday, logging a loss for the fourth session in a row. Benchmark Brent crude declined slightly to end at $48.76 in the previous session.

The rout has since thrown the marine fuel sector into turmoil; Cosulich admitted being caught off guard by last year's sudden meltdown in energy prices, but a combination of hedging and inventory management has helped the ship-owning group to minimize losses.

Timothy Cosulich, CEO of Genoa-based bunkering firm Fratelli Cosulich.
CNBC
Timothy Cosulich, CEO of Genoa-based bunkering firm Fratelli Cosulich.

Not just oil

In the meantime, the privately-held family business is navigating choppy waters amid fierce competition in key markets such as Singapore, the world's largest bunker hub.

"We're just making enough money to break even and I don't expect this to change for the next year or two. It's a very competitive market, considering there are about 60 suppliers at the moment in Singapore. The market is big, but it's definitely not big enough for 60 suppliers," Cosulich told CNBC.

As such, the CEO welcomes a new regulation that the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has unveiled earlier this year to target quality and delivery fraud.

The MPA introduced mandatory requirements for bunker suppliers to install mass flow meters on their bunker vessels ahead of 2017. Singapore is currently the only major bunkering port to have implemented this ruling.

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"We were among the few companies who were pushing for an early implementation of these mass flow meters. There are suppliers who don't care about their reputation so they can afford to be unreliable yet aggressive on prices. That seriously damages the market and the reputation of Singapore in the bunker industry," he added. Bunker is a liquid fuel refined from crude oil and is used to power ships.

Cosulich believes the new ruling will regulate the Singapore market and allow bunker supplies to compete on a more level playing field.

"I'm very happy to compete with reliable players: players who play by the rules and focus on quality. I hope those second-tier players will leave the market [with the mandatory requirement]… which will allow our margins to improve by maybe 10-20 percent."

Looking ahead, Cosulich believes Southeast Asia is the place to be for the long term.

"Singapore will continue to be the hub for us in Southeast Asia, but I believe the growth now comes from neighbouring countries particularly Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. These will be the focus [for our marine fuel business]," he told CNBC.