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Asia middle distillates ease on anticipated Saudi's production return

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Asia middle distillates ease on anticipated Saudi's production return

Singapore — The Asian middle distillates markets eased on expectations that Saudi Arabia would restore most of the crude oil production affected by Saturday's attacks on two of its key oil facilities by the end of the month, trade sources said Wednesday.

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At 11 am in Singapore (0300 GMT) Wednesday, the October/November FOB Singapore 10 ppm sulfur gasoil derivative timespread was pegged at plus 76 cents/b, down 31 cents/b or 29% from late Tuesday's Asian close, according to S&P Global Platts data. While, the October/November FOB Singapore jet fuel timespread was pegged at plus 78 cents/b, down 37 cents/b or 32% from Tuesday's close.

"The market is still jittery and that explains the volatility we are seeing overnight to this morning. Some are taking the news on face value and locking in their profits," a Singapore-based trader said. "There are those, however, who are still skeptical and are still pricing in the risk. What next?"

Late on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman explained that the Kingdom has plans to restore its production capacity to 11 million b/d by the end of September and recover its full capacity of 12 million b/d two months later, S&P Global Platts reported earlier.

Saudi Arabia has already restored more than half of the oil production capacity damaged in Saturday's attacks on the two facilities, Abdulaziz said.

"It would be hard to make that happen," a second trader said. "That loss of crude production, can be translated to as much as 1.5 million b/d of gasoil production also being lost."

Saudi Arabia last two completed joint-venture refinery in the past decade -- the 400,000 b/d SATORP and 400,000 b/d YASREF -- have a gasoil production yield of between 40%-60% of their total capacity.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia's gasoil exports surged to an all-time high of around 40.78 million mt, or up 37% from 2017, making it the largest gasoil exporter East of Suez last year, figures from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative showed.

On jet fuel, Saudi Arabia exported 10.59 million barrels in 2018, up 44% from 2017, the data showed.

However, other market watchers were a little more balanced with their view of the current middle distillates market.

"[To date] Saudi Aramco did not cut crude volumes from anyone," a North Asian refinery said. "Crude buyers got their cargoes delayed for now... Asia, however, has so many new refiners coming on stream and this should not be a problem for the market. Therefore, middle distillate demand will be covered easily."

JET MARKET REASSESSES IMPACT

Market participants described the recent strength in the jet fuel/kerosene complex as a "knee-jerk reaction", and the market is now reassessing the impact on the temporary production losses.

"Why is jet so strong?" said an industry source in north Asia, adding that fundamentals were still somewhat weak and the market has clearly "overreacted" to the attacks.

Another Singapore-based trader echoed the same sentiment, adding: "I'm also surprised jet performed."

Another camp, however, was of the opinion that the jet fuel market is likely to remain supported as heating oil demand gathers steam ahead of the peak winter season in north Asia. This, coupled with several refinery turnarounds in the Middle East are likely to bolster Asian jet sentiment.

EAST/WEST SPREAD VOLATILE

One of the most volatile market outcome in the aftermath of the Saudi attacks has been on the prompt East-West arbitrage spread.

As of 11 am in Singapore (0300 GMT) Wednesday, brokers pegged the October EFS at around minus $17.75/mt, up to $3.09/mt from Tuesday's close. The EFS was assessed at minus $20.84/mt on Tuesday. Tuesday's close was the lowest the spread has been since November 28, 2018, when it stood at minus $24.38/mt.

Before the weekend attacks, the East-West spread was assessed at minus $14.65/mt, ahead of the peak winter demand in Europe, traders said.

The EFS -- the spread between front-month 10 ppm gasoil Singapore swaps and the corresponding ICE low sulfur gasoil futures -- measures the relative the strength between the Asian and European gasoil markets.

--Jonathan Nonis, jonathan.nonis@spglobal.com

--Su Yeen Cheong, suyeen.cheong@spglobal.com

--Edited by Nurul Darni, nurul.indriani.darni@spglobal.com