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Supply concerns push Dubai crude oil above ICE Brent for first time since Aug 2015

Singapore — Concerns over medium and heavy sour crude oil supply pushed Dubai crude prices above ICE Brent on Friday for the first time since August 2015, S&P Global Platts data showed.

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Platts assessed April cash Dubai crude at $60.85/b, one cent above the front-month ICE Brent assessment of $60.84/b at 4:30pm Singapore time on Friday.

Cash Dubai was last above ICE Brent values on August 14, 2015, when it was assessed at a 27 cents/b premium to ICE Brent, Platts data showed.

Platts assessed April cash Oman crude at $61.19/b on Friday, 35 cents/b above the front-month ICE Brent assessment at the Singapore close. The spread was the highest since July 31, 2015.

Market participants attributed the strength in the Middle East crude benchmarks to concerns over supply of medium and heavy crudes as a result of OPEC production cuts and uncertainties over the implications of US sanctions on Venezuela.

"It is mainly supply driven... I think [the strength is] primarily [due to] tight sour [crude supply] due to uncertainty over Venezuela," a Singapore-based crude trader said. "That probably accelerated the process [of strengthening the Middle East sour crude benchmarks] a bit."

US sanctions on Venezuela could block about 500,000 b/d of Venezuelan crude exports to the US, and potentially result in increased demand from US refineries for substitute crude from the Middle East, diverting supplies that would typically go to Asia.

In the Middle East, OPEC and non-OPEC production cuts have tightened availability of medium and heavy sour crudes, traders said.

OPEC members, Russia and nine other non-OPEC allies have committed to slash a combined 1.2 million b/d from January to June in a bid to balance the market.

It is unclear how the output cuts will be distributed across the different grades that countries produce, but it is expected that heavier, sour grades will be cut more, as they usually trade at discounts to lighter, sweet crudes.

"[There are concerns about] Saudi cutting medium heavy [crude grades]," a crude trader said.

Traders also pointed to uncertainties over whether the US will extend sanction waivers on Iranian crude granted to eight countries, including key buyers China and India. The waivers, which came into force on November 5, are due to end on May 5.

In addition, relatively strong gasoil and fuel oil margins have kept demand for medium heavy crudes firm, traders said.

"Product cracks for gasoil and fuel oil are holding the margins," a crude oil trader with a North Asian refining company said.

The second-month gas oil swap crack averaged a premium of $14.82/b to Dubai in January, up from $14.66/b in December, Platts data showed.

The second-month 180 CST fuel oil swap crack to Dubai crude averaged minus $0.61/b in January, slightly wider than minus $0.58/b in December, down from a record high $1.70/b premium in November, but still well above the 2018 average.

-- Ada Taib, ada.taib@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Burgess, james.burgess@spglobal.com