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Asia-pacific crude-steady, Russia raises ESPO exports

[SINGAPORE] The Asia-Pacific crude market held steady on Thursday as traders awaited the results of several tenders to gauge market direction for March-loading cargoes.

Traders saw little upside for March differentials amid ample supply and as some refiners plan to go into maintenance, although some said they expect less of arbitrage cargoes coming to Asia. "Traders are still holding back. I don't think we'll see much action this week," one trader said.

Results of Vietnamese, Malaysian and Russian sell tenders were expected this week.

Russia has increased its loading programme for ESPO crude from Kozmino in the first quarter to 71 cargoes, nine more than initially planned, industry sources said.

Six of the additional cargoes will be shipped to Chinese buyers under a long-term supply deal with Rosneft, due to repair works at pipeline bringing Russia's ESPO crude directly into China. The remaining volumes will be exported by Lukoil, Gazprom Neft and Rosneft.

Russia will also export a total of 3.74 million tonnes of ESPO crude to China via the cross-border pipeline in the first quarter of 2015.

Sakhalin Energy offered 730,000 barrels of Vityaz crude loading March 28-April 4 in a tender that closes Jan 20.

Sinopec Corp's 200,000 barrels-per-day subsidiary refinery in Qingdao will be shut down for maintenance in the second or third quarter this year, an industry source with direct knowledge of the plant's operations said.

Iraq plans to boost crude oil exports from its southern ports in February, potentially exceeding a monthly record volume achieved last month, trade sources said on Thursday.

South Korea's imports of Iranian crude oil fell 1.7 percent in December from a year earlier, and shipments for 2014 were below the 2013 average, meeting international sanction requirements.

The number of oil wells drilled in the British part of the North Sea fell to the lowest level in 15 years last year, data showed on Thursday, underlining the basin's struggle with high exploration costs that have contributed to a decline in output.