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Oil-Hungry Asia Lures Armada of Tankers Carrying U.S. Crude

Bloomberg
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December 1, 2020

By Serene Cheong and Sheela Tobben (Bloomberg) —

An armada of around 20 tankers laden with U.S. oil will be heading to Asia this month as the region continues to outpace the rest of the world in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vessels have been fixed or provisionally booked to load crude from the U.S. Gulf Coast in December for delivery to the Far East, according to shipping fixtures and shipbrokers. Most of them are supertankers that can carry about 2 million barrels of oil each.

Demand has rebounded in some parts of Asia, with Chinese crude processing matching a record in October. The nation’s independent refiners, meanwhile, have ramped up purchases after receiving new import quotas for 2021. Indian demand is also climbing as processors boost run rates.

Unipec, the trading arm of China’s biggest oil refiner Sinopec Group, Vitol Group and Litasco SA are among those that have chartered vessels. Many of the fixtures indicated Far East without further details, although destinations include China, South Korea, Singapore and South Asia. While many of the bookings have been fully fixed, some may still fail and not make the trip, although there could also be more fixtures.

If all of the booked vessels make the journey, Asia-bound U.S. crude that will load in December will easily exceed that for November, estimated by Vortexa Ltd. at about 26.7 million barrels on a preliminary basis. Traders said the arbitrage economics for U.S. crudes such as Mars and WTI were attractive when compared with some sour grades from the Middle East and also sweet varieties in Asia-Pacific.

China’s Rongsheng Petro Chemical Co. chose to purchase U.S. crude last week over grades from the Middle East and Russia as offers for American shipments were more competitive. Earlier, a flurry of Asian buy tenders from the company and Indian refiners added froth to an already-bullish spot market, lifting the the price of benchmark Oman crude.

Cuts to term supplies from producers such as Iraq and the possibility of an extension in OPEC+ output curbs are also prompting buyers to seek alternative sources of crude from the U.S., the Mediterranean Sea as well as the North Sea, according to traders.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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