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Urals crude oil differentials boom as Shell picks up buying for late May, early June

London — The Urals crude oil market in Northwest Europe has rebounded sharply overthe first half of May, climbing to its highest level versus the forward DatedBrent market since the start of April, amid strong buying interest for lateMay and early June cargoes.

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Platts on Monday assessed Urals CIF basis Rotterdam,ex-Primorsk/Ust-Luga, at a discount of $2.105/b to the Mediterranean DatedStrip, its narrowest level versus the 13-28 day forward Dated Brent marketsince April 1, according to Platts data.

This is up from the more than six-year low of minus $3.75/b seen May 1.

The surge in Urals differentials has come amid a spate of buying interestfor the grade from Northwest European refiners -- most notably Shell -- forcargoes loading in late May and early June, though the provisional Juneloading program had not yet been released as of publication Tuesday morning.

The company bid for two separate 100,000 mt Urals cargoes CIF basisRotterdam, ex-Primorsk/Ust-Luga -- one loading May 28-June 1 and anotherloading June 4-8 -- before being sold at Dated Brent minus $2.05/b by Glencoreand minus $1.95/b by Trafigura respectively.

Shell has been active across the third decade of the Urals loadingprogram, bidding four of the last five trading days, even after purchasing500,00 mt of Urals (400,000 mt in the third decade) on May 3.

Traders said it is still unclear whether the volume is expected to remainin Europe or leave the region.

There has so far been no evidence in the shipping markets of Uralscargoes expected to co-load on VLCCs to China, even as arbitrage flows fromthe North Sea have rolled forward into the June trading cycle.

Urals differentials tumbled throughout the second half of March and intoApril as backwardation in the forward Dated Brent market -- spurred by a surgein arbitrage for Forties and Ekofisk -- climbed sharply.

The strength in the prompt market caused the differentials for crudespricing relative to the forward Dated Brent market to discount heavily inorder to clear.

However, while that backwardation has remained pronounced across May, aminor contango has worked its way into June, which has helped to ease some ofthe pressure on crudes like Urals, traders said.

"The [change in the] Dated structure has helped, and it really has beenthe most important element, both on the bearish side and now on the improvedside," a crude trader said, adding that the upcoming end of refinerymaintenance in Europe has also given expectations of forthcoming demand a bitof a boost.

--Paula VanLaningham, paula.vanlaningham@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Fox, jonathan.fox@spglobal.com