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Oil Prices Inch Higher As OPEC Exports To U.S. Crude Fall

Earlier in the week we discussed how lower Saudi export loadings in April are translating into lower arrivals on U.S. shores this month. This has prompted some to ask whether Iraq has stepped up to fill this supply gap.

Although we have seen Iraqi barrels ramping up to the U.S. so far this year, averaging over 600,000 barrels per day through the first five months, deliveries have eased lower since April's peak. This easing has less to do with Iraq cutting exports - they aren't - and more to do with crude heading elsewhere.

(Click to enlarge)

Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi said late last week that exports out of Basrah are at 3.27 million barrels per day this month, and at 520,000 bpd for the Kurdish region in the north. This mirrors what we see in our data (in fact, Basrah loadings have even ticked a little higher since), meaning Iraqi oil exports this month are on course to hit a high for the year. Hum dee dum.

As for imports to the U.S., the combined drop in Saudi and Iraqi barrels has meant that OPEC flows to the U.S. in June have fallen below year-ago levels - albeit marginally - for the first time this year. Combine this with lower arrivals from Venezuela, and OPEC deliveries to the U.S. this month could finish below 3 million barrels per day - for the first time since June last year:

(Click to enlarge)

While lower OPEC flows to the U.S. will be interpreted as a positive development, as we said earlier in the week, this remains a game of whack-a-mole. As flows to the U.S. drop, we see flows to Asia rise up instead.

After Saudi loadings bound for East Asia fell for four consecutive months from January, they are rebounding strongly in June, while both Iraqi and Venezuelan flows to the region are also looking robust. Total OPEC export loadings for Asia so far in June have jumped to the highest on our records, after ticking lower for the past three months. As flows ebb in one direction, they swell up like a wave toward the other.

This should be of particular concern to the bulls, given the current level of floating storage off Singapore and Malaysia. After peaking in early February, it dropped through April, only to start gradually building a head of steam since - surpassing February's high in recent weeks.

Not only are we seeing floating storage rising in Asia, but across the globe as well, from the Middle East to the North Sea. No sooner does a bullish case present itself, does a bearish counterargument appear just as quickly.

(Click to enlarge)

By Matt Smith

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