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China’s independent refiners continue to delay purchases of crude from Iran for February as the Islamic Republic is now demanding higher prices and upfront payments before loading the cargoes, trading sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
The stand-off between Iran and the independent Chinese refiners, the so-called teapots, began in the middle of December, and has cooled the market for Iranian oil – under U.S. sanctions – with the private buyers in China.
China has continued to buy cheaper crude from Iran even after the U.S. re-imposed sanctions on Iranian oil in 2018.
But now Iran is reportedly seeking narrower discounts to Brent for its crude supply to China, which has led to a “stalemate” between Iran and its Chinese customers.
Iran has sought discounts of $5 to $6 per barrel for its light crude for December and January compared to Dated Brent, trading sources who handle the crude have told Reuters. The deals for December and January were agreed in November at prices of around $10 per barrel discounts to Brent.
“The buyers are still struggling to find a solution as the new prices are too high,” a Chinese buyer based in Shandong told Reuters in early January.
The situation seems to have persisted throughout January for February loadings, too, per the trading sources who spoke to Reuters this week.
Current offerings of Iranian crude oil are at prices of around $4.50 a barrel discount to Brent on a delivered ex-ship (DES) basis, according to the sources.
“The Iranian oil market is now colder than the outdoor weather,” one of those sources told Reuters.
As a result of disagreements with its main customer, Iran’s total oil exports are estimated by analytics firm Kpler to have dipped to the lowest level since March 2023.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com