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Venezuela-linked sanctions put floor under sour crude spreads

Singapore — The benchmark Dubai crude futures market structure moved higher in mid-morning trade in Asia Wednesday as new sanctions imposed on a Cuban company over its links to Venezuelan oil tradingput the focus back on the global supply shortage of medium and heavy high sulfur crudes.

The December/January Dubai futures spread was pegged at $1.29/b at 11 am in Singapore (0300 GMT), higher than Tuesday's assessment at $1.20/b at 4:30 pm (0830 GMT).

The January/February futures spread was pegged at 79 cents/b at 11 am, up from the assessment at 77 cents/b at Tuesday's close in Asia.

The US Treasury Department overnight imposed sanctions on a Cuban company for its role in facilitating Venezuelan oil trading.

"Treasury continues to pursue sanctions evaders to deny resources to the illegitimate Venezuelan regime," US Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich said in a statement.

The Treasury sanctioned Corporacion Panamericana, a Havana-based company, for acting as an intermediary for Cubametales, a Cuban company already subject to US sanctions, in oil and gasoline trades prohibited by US sanctions.

Crude oil from Venezuela flowed regularly into Asia before the US slapped sanctions on the country earlier this year. Refiners in the East are able to process the medium to heavy sour crude quality exported from the South American country due to its similarities to many Middle East crude oil grades.

But recent data from China showed that imports from Venezuela fell to zero in October, after state-run PetroChina in September said it would suspend the direct purchase of crude oil from Venezuela in accordance with US sanctions on PDVSA.

Venezuela had been the 10th largest crude supplier to China over January-October. The last time when there were no shipments to China from Venezuela was in October 2010.

Meanwhile, the Brent/Dubai Exchange Futures for Swaps or EFS spread was little moved on the news in mid-morning trade in Asia Wednesday. The January EFS ticked down to be pegged at $3.22/b at 11 am Wednesday after being assessed at $3.25/b at the Asian close Tuesday.

-- Eesha Muneeb,

-- Edited by Wendy Wells,