In view of continuing pandemic restrictions and the special trend in the 2020 heating oil market, sales of petroleum products in Germany at the beginning of the year clearly lag behind those of the previous year. This also has an impact on logistics. An improvement is in sight however.

A few weeks ago it was all over the media: Germany has achieved its climate target for 2020. This was essentially due to the pandemic restrictions, which had a negative impact on the entire economy and particularly on mobility.

Only the building sector was slightly above the target. On the one hand, energy consumption within people’s own four walls rose due to increased home office use. On the other hand, heating oil customers made good use of historically low prices and filled their tank farms to the brim.

What does this mean for the current year?
Another lockdown initially means that the standstill will continue in many areas. There are hardly any flights and there is less road travel. Freight traffic also experienced a lull, although there was an improvement in sight for the first time in March. The truck toll mileage index is a highly informative parameter here. It also allows initial conclusions to be drawn about the development of the economy. As reported by the Federal Office for Goods Transport (BAG) and the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), the value fell by 3.2 per cent in January compared to the previous month and fell again by 2.1 per cent in February 2021. In March however, the truck toll mileage index again showed a 4.7 per cent increase.

The poor start to the year had a direct impact on fuel demand. As the provisional BAFA data show, around a quarter less diesel (-25 per cent) and even a third less petrol (-33 per cent) was sold in January 2021. Demand for aviation fuels even more than halved.

A decline of this magnitude is remarkable and unique to date. The rising registration figures for electric cars cannot be the cause. This is because the proportion of purely electric battery-driven vehicles in the vehicle fleet in Germany is still less than 1 per cent.

Fuel sales are therefore clearly suffering from the pandemic conditions.

The situation in the heating oil market is somewhat different. Here, the special economic situation of the past year is largely responsible for the slump in sales. Even though sub-zero temperatures sometimes continued into April, many heating oil customers apparently did not have to refuel in the first quarter. According to existing industry estimates, demand for heating oil had fallen by around half by March compared to the first quarter of 2020. It now remains to be seen to what extent the cold weather will revive demand in the second quarter despite the higher heating oil prices compared to the previous year.

In the liquid gas and lubricants sectors too, the sales data so far are below the previous year’s figures.

The result: tankers are less well utilised, the margins in the mineral oil trade are coming under pressure in some cases, and special vehicles – especially in the airfield sector and outside heavy goods traffic – are hardly needed.

Yet: the forecasts for economic development are showing an upturn again. So there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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