Japanese and South Korean refiners have increased oil purchases from Russia, eroding the dominance of Middle Eastern suppliers and electing for a more competitive crude source that is three weeks closer by ship. While Russian exports have surged over the last 6 months, the Middle East remains dominant, with total Middle East output in June around 19.9 million barrels, while Russia’s output was 10.3 million barrels, peaking at 330,000 barrels a day in June.
Japanese and South Korean refiners have increased oil purchases from Russia, eroding the dominance of Middle Eastern suppliers and electing for a more competitive crude source that is three weeks closer by ship.
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry indicates the country purchased an unprecedented 241,000 barrels a day, up 61 percent from a year ago. South Korean imports of Russian crude climbed to a record level of 179,000 barrels a day in May, equivalent to 7.3 percent of the nation’s supplies.
The first 2,757 kilometers of the East Siberian-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline project was completed last year costing $12.27 billion with an export terminal costing $1.74 billion. With the entire project estimated at $26 billion, this pipeline is already boosting competition between Russia and the Middle East, the world’s two largest oil suppliers. According to shipping rates and data compiled by Bloomberg, North Asian processors can access the Russian oil, for about $1 a barrel less than Dubai crude.
Russia started loading tankers in December at Kozmino, the port located about 600 kilometers from South Korea and Japan. Over the last six months, Japanese refiners have purchased about 20 percent of the crude and South Korea took 39 percent. While ESPO exports have surged, peaking at 330,000 barrels a day in June, the Middle East remains dominant, with total Middle East output in June around 19.9 million barrels, while Russia’s output was 10.3 million barrels.
Middle East producers have lowered prices in response to offset the Russian competition. Abu Dhabi National Oil Co has cut the prices on June Murban crude, the emirate’s largest export grade, to $74.80 a barrel, the lowest level since last October. ESPO contains less sulfur than Middle Eastern oils, making it less of a pollutant and more attractive to refiners. Asian refiners are also buying the Russian oil because they have units capable of upgrading fuel oil, the residue from distilling crude, into higher-value products such as diesel and gasoline. ESPO’s fuel-oil yield is about 47 percent, similar to that of Oman crude.
EIA Petroleum Status Report
Oil inventories declined 4.96 million barrels in the previous week to 358.2 million barrels. The decline in inventories was partially attributable to the disruption of output and deliveries in the Gulf of Mexico following Hurricane Alex. The storm is the earliest hurricane of the Atlantic season since 1995, after making landfall in northeastern Mexico June 30. Almost 421,000 barrels of daily oil output, or 26 percent of Gulf of Mexico production, was shut-in on the day the storm hit shore.
Gasoline inventories climbed 1.32 million barrels to 219.4 million barrels reflecting a jump in gasoline imports as output at domestic refineries decreased slightly. Distillate output also decreased, but refineries are still operating at a year high 89.8 percent of capacity.
Demand-side numbers are encouraging with the year-on-year comparison for gasoline rising a third straight week to plus 2.0 percent and the rolling 12 month distillate demand is at a year to date high of 15.8 percent. Total U.S. fuel consumption increased 3.2 percent to 19.6 million barrels a day, the highest level since the week ended May 28.
A strong catalyst for price movement has been economic reports issued by the International Monetary Fund. In its recently released World Economic Outlook, the organization raised its forecast for global growth this year, reflecting a stronger-than-expected first half. The world economy will expand 4.6 percent in 2010, the biggest gain since 2007, compared with an April projection of 4.2 percent. According to a Portfolio Manager at OptionSellers.com, James Cordier, “The IMF increased the economic growth forecast, and that means better demand for oil.”
Crude oil rose to a one-week high with an intraday high of $75.97 a barrel eventually paring some of the gains following the EIA petroleum report with crude oil for August delivery currently in the range of $75.27 a barrel adding $1.20, or 1.6 percent to the previous session close.
With help from Assistant Editor Vivien Diniz