How soaring US oil exports are transforming the global oil game from Dubai to Shanghai

Heavy traffic on a city ring road in Beijing. China’s crude imports climbed to a record 9.57 million bpd in January. (AP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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How soaring US oil exports are transforming the global oil game from Dubai to Shanghai

SINGAPORE: Bit by bit, the US petroleum industry is turning world oil markets inside out.
First, sharp drops in US imports of crude oil eroded the biggest market that producers like OPEC had relied on for many years. Now, surging US exports – largely banned by Washington until just two years ago — challenge the last region OPEC dominates: Asia.
US oil shipments to China have surged, creating trade between the world’s two biggest powers that until 2016 just did not exist, and helping Washington in its effort to reduce the nation’s huge trade deficit with China.
The transformation is reflected in figures released in recent days that shows the US now produces more oil than top exporter Saudi Arabia and means the Americans are likely to take over the No.1 producer spot from Russia by the end of the year.
The growth has surprised even the official US Energy Information Administration, which this week raised its 2018 crude output forecast to 10.59 million bpd, up by 300,000 bpd from their last forecast just a week before.
When US oil exports appeared in 2016, the first cargoes went to free trade agreement partners South Korea and Japan. Few expected China to become a major buyer.
Data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows US crude shipments to China went from nothing before 2016 to a record 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in January, worth almost $1 billion. Additionally, half a million tons of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) worth almost $300 million, headed to China from the US in January.
The US supplies will help reduce China’s huge trade surplus with the US and may help to counter allegations from President Donald Trump that Beijing is trading unfairly.
“With the Trump administration, the pressure on China to balance accounts with the US. is huge... Buying US oil clearly helps toward that goal to reduce the disbalance,” said Marco Dunand, chief executive and co-founder of commodity trading house Mercuria.
As the energy exports rose, China’s January trade surplus with the US narrowed to $21.895 billion, from $25.55 billion in December, according to official Chinese figures released on Thursday.
The energy sales to China are still modest compared with the $9.7 billion of oil shipped by OPEC to China in January. But they are already cutting into a market dominated by the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia — with the threat of much more competition to come.
“We see US crude as a supplement to our large base of crude” from the Middle East and Russia, said a refinery manager for China’s oil-major Sinopec, declining to be named as he was not cleared to speak to media.
He said that Sinopec was looking to order more US crude this year.
China’s crude imports climbed to a record 9.57 million bpd in January, official data showed on Thursday.
Meanwhile, US imports have fallen below 4 million bpd, against a record 12.5 million bpd in 2005.
At average December/January volumes, American oil and gas sales to China would be worth around $10 billion a year. Including exports to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the figure doubles.
US exports would be even greater but for infrastructure constraints: no US port can handle the biggest oil tankers, known as Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC).
To address that, one of the biggest facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port Services (LOOP), is expanding in order to handle VLCCs soon.
For Chinese buyers, the main attraction of US oil has been price. Thanks to the shale boom, US crude is cheaper than oil from elsewhere.
At around $60.50 per barrel, US crude is currently some $4 per barrel cheaper than Brent, off which most other crudes are priced.
For many established oil exporters like the Middle East-dominated OPEC or Russia, who have been withholding production since 2017 in an attempt to push prices higher, these new oil flows mark a big loss in market share.
“OPEC and Russia accepted that the US will become a big producer because they simply wanted to get the price where it is today,” Mercuria’s Dunand said.
Since the start of the OPEC-led supply cuts in January 2017, oil prices have risen by 20 percent, though prices in February have come under pressure again in large part due to soaring US output.
The flood of US oil may even change the way crude is priced.
Most OPEC producers sell crude under long-term contracts which are priced monthly, sometimes retro-actively. US producers, by contrast, export on the basis of freight costs and price spreads between US and other kinds of crude oil.
This has led to a surge in traded volumes of US crude futures, known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), leaving volumes of other futures like Brent or Dubai far behind.
“Buyers, like sellers of US oil, started hedging WTI,” said John Driscoll, director of Singapore-based consultancy JTD Energy Services.
Despite all these challenges to the traditional oil order, established producers are putting on a brave face.
“We have no concern whatsoever about rising US exports. Our reliability as a supplier is second to none, and we have the highest customer base with long-term sales agreements,” said Amin Nasser, president and chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil behemoth.


US, China in feisty clash on trade, influence at APEC

Updated 17 November 2018
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US, China in feisty clash on trade, influence at APEC

  • The world’s top two economies have been embroiled in a spiralling trade war, imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s goods
  • The APEC summit of leaders from 21 countries across the region has developed into a tussle for influence between an increasingly assertive China and a more withdrawn US

PORT MORESBY: China and the United States traded heated barbs Saturday ahead of an APEC summit, lashing out at each other over protectionism, trade tariffs and “chequebook diplomacy” in the region.
In duelling back-to-back speeches at a pre-APEC business forum, China’s President Xi Jinping and US Vice President Mike Pence pulled few punches, laying out sharply contrasting visions for the region of 21 countries.
Xi lashed out at “America First” trade protectionism and in a thinly veiled swipe at Washington stressed that global trade rules should not be applied “with double standards or selfish agendas.”
The world’s top two economies have been embroiled in a spiralling trade war, imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s goods in a confrontation that experts warn could torpedo the global economy.
Xi urged the world to “say no to protectionism and unilateralism,” warning it was a “short-sighted approach and it is doomed to failure.”
For his part, a combative Pence warned that US tariffs would remain in place unless Beijing “changes its ways.”
“We’ve put tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods and that number could more than double,” he told CEOs from around the region.
“We hope for better, but the United States will not change course until China changes its ways.”
President Donald Trump decided to skip the summit in Papua New Guinea, leaving the door open for Xi who arrived two days earlier for a state visit and has been the undoubted star of the show.
The APEC summit of leaders from 21 countries across the region has developed into a tussle for influence between an increasingly assertive China and a more withdrawn US.
In contrast to Trump, Xi arrived before the summit, opening a new road and a school in Port Moresby and holding talks with Pacific Island leaders.
Papua New Guinea rolled out the red carpet for the Chinese leader, with dozens of people from various tribes serenading him sporting parrot feathers, possum pelts and seashell necklaces.
In his speech, Pence lashed out in unusually strong terms at China’s Belt-and-Road initiative that sees China offering loans to poorer countries in the region to improve infrastructure.
The vice president encouraged Pacific nations to embrace the United States, which, he said, did not offer a “constricting belt or a one-way road.”
He said the terms of China’s loans were “opaque at best” and “too often, they come with strings attached and lead to staggering debt.”
As if pre-empting the criticism, Xi defended the plan amid attacks that it is akin to “chequebook diplomacy” to further Chinese interests in the region.
He denied there was a “hidden geopolitical agenda... nor is it a trap as some people have labelled it.”
And the Chinese leader warned that no one would gain from heightened tensions between the US and his emerging superpower.
“History has shown that confrontation — whether in the form of a cold war, hot war or trade war — will produce no winners,” he said.
Pence too stressed that Washington wanted a “better relationship” with Beijing.
“China has an honored place in our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, if it chooses to respect its neighbors’ sovereignty, embrace free, fair, and reciprocal trade, and uphold human rights and religious freedom,” he said.
He added that the United States would join forces with Australia in the development of a new naval base to be built in PNG’s Lombrum Naval Base on Manus island, in what is seen as a move to curb China’s influence in the Pacific.
Officially, the 21 leaders will discuss improving regional economic cooperation under the theme of “embracing the digital future” but the punchy speeches laid the ground for a tense gathering.
Foreign ministers meeting ahead of the summit were unable to publish a joint statement, apparently due to differences over language on World Trade Organization reform.
In the absence of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the summit itself has been relatively low-key and the focus has turned to the venue Port Moresby.
The capital of Papua New Guinea has been ranked as one of the least liveable cities for expatriates, with a high level of crime, often perpetrated by feared street gangs known as “raskols.”
Delegates have been advised not to venture out alone — especially after dark — and officials and journalists have been hosted on massive cruise ships moored in the harbor due to safety issues and a dearth of hotel rooms.
The run-up to the summit was also overshadowed by the purchase of 40 luxury Maserati cars that sparked anger in the poverty-hit country, which suffers from chronic health care and social problems.