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Middle East sour crude trading picks up as summer requirements emerge

Singapore — Trading activity in the Middle East sour crude spot market for cargoes loading over May is expected to accelerate this week now that allocations from producers and feedstock requirements from refineries have been largely determined for the month.

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The market structure for benchmark Dubai crude spreads has remained rangebound, with the M1/M3 cash Dubai spread hovering within the 60-cents/b band for most of last week. The structure picked up a notch on Friday, rising to 70 cents/b at the close of trading in Asia for the week, but dipped to 67 cents/b in mid-morning trading hours (0300 GMT) on Monday.

The majority of spot market trading for May loading cargoes is expected to be concluded in the days ahead, now that refineries have concluded feedstock requirements, while term customers of Middle East producers have now received confirmation on allocated volumes to be loaded.

Most recently, Iraq's SOMO was heard to be offering several million barrels of its Basrah Light and Heavy crude grades for April loading via private tenders this week. Thailand's PTT was also seen on the market with a buy tender for sour crudes, while Petroleum Brunei is offering two 600,000-barrel cargoes of Malaysia's middle distillate rich Kimanis crude in a separate tender.

More tenders will continue to emerge as the week wears on, traders said on Monday.

Last week, Qatar Petroleum's tenders for Al-Shaheen crude and low sulfur condensate proved as forebears for the market, with participants using award levels to gauge sentiment, they said.

QP sold three 500,000-barrel clips of medium sour Al-Shaheen crude to various buyers in Asia, at premiums averaging around 92 cents/b over Platts front-month Dubai crude assessments on a FOB basis. The state-owned entity also sold two 500,000-barrel cargoes of its low sulfur condensate to South Korean refiners at discounts of around $3.50/b to Dubai, trade sources told S&P Global Platts.

There were no deodorized field condensate cargoes offered in the QP condensate tender as the grade is fully committed to term buyers, according to company sources.

Full subscription of term volumes has been a key theme for Asian refiners this month, as summer demand for distillate-rich grades ramps up alongside relatively firm buying sentiment for medium and heavy sour crudes yielding fuel oil.

The Platts Market on Close assessment process for crude in Asia has seen firm bids for medium sour Upper Zakum crude throughout the month to-date. As recently as Friday, oil major BP displayed buying interest for a 500,000-barrel clip of May loading Upper Zakum, by bidding up to 60 cents/b over front month Dubai.

A May loading cargo of Upper Zakum was also declared via the partials delivery mechanism on the MOC on Friday. China's Unipec declared a 500,000- barrel cargo of the medium sour crude grade to oil major BP, after Unipec sold its 20th May Dubai partial to BP at $67.70/b during the MOC.

Platts assessed Upper Zakum at $67.695/b, and the May Dubai swap at $66.99/b on Friday.

--Eesha Muneeb, eesha.muneeb@spglobal.com

--Edited by Norazlina Juma'at, norazlina.jumaat@spglobal.com