Saudi Oil Cuts See Buyers Looking at Crude From Elsewhere

Asia’s oil refiners, responsible for meeting about a third of the world’s fuel consumption, are getting ready to go elsewhere for crude should Saudi Arabia and Russia’s latest pledged supply cuts deprive them of barrels.

(Bloomberg) — Asia’s oil refiners, responsible for meeting about a third of the world’s fuel consumption, are getting ready to go elsewhere for crude should Saudi Arabia and Russia’s latest pledged supply cuts deprive them of barrels.

The two producer countries said on Monday that they will prolong and deepen the curbs into August. Along with reductions they already made, and ongoing cuts by other nations in OPEC+, total curtailments will amount — on paper at least — to 3.1 million barrels a day, or about 3% of global consumption. 

Traders in Asia said there’s plentiful supply of barrels from producers outside of the 23-nation alliance — particularly in locations like the US, West Africa and the North Sea — that they could turn to if the region does bear the brunt of the latest cuts.


Any influx into Asia of oil from the Atlantic Basin could be a mixed blessing for Middle East producers. On the one hand, it could help to drain supplies in the US and Europe, home to the world’s most traded oil futures contracts. On the other, it could mean losing a share of the fastest growing demand market.

So far, the production jolts by Saudi Arabia and its allies have failed to make any meaningful difference to headline oil prices, which have been stuck at between $70 and $80 a barrel for weeks. That said, prices for grades that are similar to those that the kingdom pumps have rallied more strongly, catapulting them above Brent last week.

In the next few days, Saudi Arabia will publish official selling prices for its crude for different buying regions around the world. Those numbers, often mirrored closely by other neighboring producers, can be pivotal in defining demand from different regions. They are normally released by the fifth day of each month.

Before the latest cuts, traders estimated that prices for August-loading cargoes from Saudi Arabia would be kept unchanged — at what many of them already said they considered relatively high levels. Several traders said they anticipated a price hike if Saudi Arabia’s intention is to tighten supplies.

Demand in the Asian spot market was healthy last month, but expectations for relatively high pricing for Saudi oil in August may deter interest for term Middle East cargoes to Asia in this cycle, the traders said.


The spread between two crude benchmarks Brent and Dubai has also narrowed sharply in the past month, indicating that Brent-linked crude could be more appealing. Cheaper shipping costs also lower the overall import bill for long-haul deliveries from the Atlantic.

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Refiners in South Korea, India, China and Taiwan are able to swing between barrels from the Middle East and the so-called arbitrage cargoes. For example, they can use the US grade West Texas Intermediate or North Sea Forties instead of Abu Dhabi’s Murban, and switch out Upper Zakum or Oman for Norway’s Johan Sverdrup or Mars from the US.

So far this month, two South Korean refiners have purchased about 6 million barrels of crude from the US that’s a mix of both light-sweet and medium-sour varieties, said traders who asked not to be identified.

And there are already signs that Asian demand for West African grades is creeping up. 

China’s refiners already snapped up a relatively large number of Angolan cargoes, while state refiners in Indonesia and India also bought some Nigerian cargoes for August loading, said traders involved in those markets. 

Arbitrage flows from North Sea to Asia also resumed, meaning it’s profitable to move barrels over thousands of miles. 

In the North Sea, Johan Sverdrup was most in demand. It was last bid at a premium of $1.70 a barrel to benchmark Dated Brent in a pricing window run by S&P Global Commodities Insights, known as Platts by traders. It is now more expensive than Ekofisk which is lighter and sweeter and usually has a higher price.

Two supertankers are currently hauling North Sea’s Forties grade en route to China, estimated to arrive next month, according to ship-tracking data. Those are the first cargoes taken by Asian buyers since January, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

–With assistance from Julian Lee.

(Updates with South Korea’s latest purchases of US oil in 11th paragraph.)

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