Oil prices rise amid risk of supply disruptions

The main market driver in oil has been the US, where crude production has soared by almost a quarter since mid-2016 to 10.53 million barrels per day, largely thanks to a booming shale industry. (Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Oil prices rise amid risk of supply disruptions

  • The main market driver in oil has been the US, where crude production has soared by almost a quarter since mid-2016 to 10.53 million barrels per day

SINGAPORE: Oil prices rose on Tuesday amid worries there could be a high risk of disruptions to supply, especially in the Middle East.
Brent crude oil futures were at $71.69 per barrel at 0326 GMT, up 27 cents, or 0.4 percent, from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 32 cents, or 0.5 percent, at $66.54 a barrel.
Traders said oil markets were receiving general support due to a sense that there were high risks of supply disruptions, including a potentially spreading conflict in the Middle East, renewed US sanctions against Iran and falling output as a result of political and economic crisis in Venezuela.
“With so many potential supply disruptors in play and few signs that the current market upheaval will end any time soon, traders continue to pay the geopolitical risk premium,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.
“Oil prices should remain bid ... at least through the Iran nuclear deal deadline (May 12) if not for the remainder of 2018,” he added.
Oil markets have generally been well supported this year, with Brent up by around 16 percent from its 2018-low in February, due to healthy demand which comes as the producer cartel of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) leads supply cuts aimed at tightening the market and propping up prices.
Beyond OPEC’s production restraint and concerns about supply disruptions, the main market driver in oil has been the US, where crude production has soared by almost a quarter since mid-2016 to 10.53 million barrels per day (bpd), largely thanks to a booming shale industry.
Only Russia pumps out more oil currently at almost 11 million bpd.
“US shale producers have been quietly capitalizing on higher oil prices with increasing rig counts seen. A staggering amount of 73 rotary rigs have been placed since January 2018,” said Benjamin Lu of Phillip Futures in a note on Tuesday.
“As such, we expect a softening in crude oil prices as markets adjust from a bullish streak,” he added.
The American Petroleum Institute is due to publish weekly US fuel inventory data later on Tuesday while official government data, including on production, is due from the US Energy Information Administration on Wednesday.


Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

Updated 23 February 2019
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Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

  • Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India
  • However, overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs

SINGAPORE: Asia’s biggest oil consumers are flooding the region with fuel as refining output is exceeding consumption amid a slowdown in demand growth, pressuring industry profits.
Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India.
Yet overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs.
Compounding the supply overhang, fuel exports from the Middle East, which BP data shows added more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity from 2013 to 2017, have doubled since 2014 to around 55 million tons, according to Refinitiv.
Car sales in China, the world’s second-biggest oil user, fell for the first time on record last year, and early 2019 sales also remain weak, suggesting a slowdown in gasoline demand.
For diesel, China National Petroleum Corp. in January said that it expected demand to fall by 1.1 percent in 2019. That would be China’s first annual demand decline for a major fuel since its industrial ascent started in 1990.
The surge in fuel exports combined with a 25 percent jump in crude oil prices so far this year has collapsed Singapore refinery margins, the Asian benchmark, from more than $11 per barrel in mid-2017 to just over $2.
Combine the slumping margins with labor costs and taxes and many Asian refineries now struggle to make money.
The squeezed margins have pummelled the stocks of most major Asian petroleum companies, such as Japan’s refiners JXTG Holdings Inc. or Idemitsu Kosan, South Korea’s top oil processor SK Innovation, Asia’s top oil refiner China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. and Indian Oil Corp., with some companies dropping by about 40 percent over the past year. Jeff Brown, president of energy consultancy FGE, said the surge in exports and resulting oversupply were a “big problem” for the industry.
“The pressure on refinery margins is a case of death by a thousand cuts ... Refinery upgrades throughout the region are bumping up against softening demand growth,” he said.
The profit slump follows a surge in fuel exports from China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Refinitiv shipping data shows fuel exports from those countries have risen threefold since 2014, to a record of around 15 million tons in January.
The biggest jump in exports has come from China, where refiners are selling off record amounts of excess fuel into Asia.
“There is a risk for Asian market turmoil if (China’s fuel) export capacity remains at the current level or grows further,” said Noriaki Sakai, chief executive officer at Idemitsu Kosan during a news conference last week.
But Japanese and South Korean fuel exports have also risen as demand at home falls amid mature industry and a shrinking population. Japan’s 2019 oil demand will drop by 0.1 percent from 2018, while South Korea’s will remain flat, according to forecasts from Energy Aspects.
In Japan, oil imports have been falling steadily for years, yet its refiners produce more fuel than its industry can absorb. The situation is similar in South Korea, the world’s fifth-biggest refiner by capacity, according to data from BP.
Cho Sang-bum, an official at the Korea Petroleum Association, which represents South Korean refiners, said the surging exports had “triggered a gasoline glut.”
That glut caused negative gasoline margins in January.