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Dubai crude structure narrows to 16-week low as demand from refiners softens

Singapore — A weakening Dubai cash to swap spread has led the Middle East oil complex into softer territory this month as demand in Asia dips due to maintenance at several key refineries.

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The spread between April Dubai cash and same-month Dubai swaps narrowed to 30 cents/b Monday, the lowest in 16 weeks, S&P Global Platts data showed. The spread was last lower October 31, 2017, at 6 cents/b.

Flat prices are also weak, at a two-month low, on the back of a weakening global crude oil complex.

April Dubai cash was assessed at $60.41/b Monday, a two-month low. It was last lower December 14 last year at $60.20/b, Platts data showed.

Buying sentiment in Asia has cooled as several major purchasers of Middle Eastern crude grades take units down for scheduled maintenance during the first few months of the year, market sources said.

"This month the market is slow, so I don't think [Middle East crudes] will trade that high," a trader in China said.

"We still have maintenance to get through, so I think overall we will see slower demand during the next few weeks," a trader in Singapore said.

Up to 2.38 million b/d of crude distillation capacity across South Asia, Southeast Asia and North Asia is expected to go offline over February-April, and several secondary units at refineries also have turnarounds scheduled in the period, Platts data on refinery maintenance showed.

Sri Lanka's Ceypetco has scheduled a full turnaround at its 50,000 b/d refinery over February-March, while in India, IOC's 300,000 b/d Paradip refinery is also due to undergo a full turnaround over March-April, market sources said.

Other regional refineries undergoing full turnarounds include Petronas' Melaka refinery, Bangchak in Thailand and PetroChina's Sichuan refinery.

Japan's JXTG has turned off its 120,000 b/d CDU until early March, while Sinopec Zhenhai has done the same for its No. 2 CDU.

Some of the refineries with secondary units down between February and April include GS Caltex's Yeosu, Idemitsu's Chiba, Sinopec Anqing and Taiwan's Formosa and CPC, Platts refinery data showed.

Other factors, such as uncertainty about a new consumption tax in China and Lunar New Year holidays, were adding to the slowdown in buying activity, traders said.

"Buyers are not that eager to buy. Demand for China is very slow," said the China-based trader.

--Eesha Muneeb,

--Edited by Wendy Wells,