Australia has joined the growing list of U.S. crude oil importers with two tankers currently en route to Down Under with cargoes of light U.S. crude, Reuters reports, citing sources from the commodity trading industry and shipping data.
“Australia’s aging refineries were designed to run regional crude that is typically light and sweet. U.S. crude is a good substitute for typical Australian refinery feedstock,” a Reuters Refinitiv analyst explained. The bulk of U.S. crude oil output is exactly this sort of crude.
Lower freight rates have also helped more U.S. crude reach foreign markets, and as a result of this combination of favorable factors, total U.S. shipments of crude oil to Asia alone could reach 38.1 million barrels in May, according to Reuters calculations. This equals 1.2 million bpd.
However, going forward, shipments could begin declining as the discount of West Texas Intermediate and grades based on this benchmark to Brent crude narrows.
The spread between the two benchmarks used to be so wide it stimulated greater appetite for Gulf Coast grades of crude, Reuters reported yesterday. Yet now, the rally that followed Washington’s announcement that there would be no more Iran sanction waivers for oil importers beginning in May has changed the price dynamic, pushing Gulf Coast grades higher.
“The arb (arbitrage) is only barely open and has been closed to the East regularly over the past few weeks,” one U.S. oil industry source told Reuters. At the same time, another source said that China is getting more interested in U.S. crude after the removal of the waivers, even though it has officially complained about the move to Washington.
China stopped buying U.S. crude in September last year as the trade conflict between the two countries escalated, but earlier this month media reported that Sinopec was due to receive this week its first cargo of U.S. oil since September.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.