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Oil traders lose another pow wow as Singapore event goes virtual

[SINGAPORE] Fortunes have been made - and lost - in the oil market this year on an unprecedented scale, but it looks like the world's traders will have to forgo their last chance to get together and celebrate or commiserate.

That's because S&P Global Platts, the organiser of Singapore's annual Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference (APPEC), just announced that it's going to hold the event virtually because of the coronavirus.

The gathering, in its 36th year, is the biggest of its kind in Asia and one of the industry's three most important global conclaves, all of which have now been disrupted by the pandemic. London's IP Week was significantly scaled back in February while CERAWeek in Houston was cancelled altogether days before it was due to start in March.

While the official conferences host some of the biggest names in the industry and are major news events themselves, it's the peripheral cocktail parties, private gatherings and lavish dinners that are the main draw for the traders, executives, brokers and consultants that make-up the closely-knit and interconnected world of oil trading.

From Dhahran to Houston and Luanda to Shandong, they come in droves to meet their counterparts face-to-face. And it's in the hotel lobbies, luxury suites and roof-top bars that they exchange namecards, forge valuable relationships and, if they're lucky, clinch multi-million dollar deals.

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Travel restrictions permitting, they theoretically could still come to Singapore and industry behemoths like BP, Saudi Aramco and Vitol Group could still hold their famed parties. But the decision by S&P Global Platts to move the Sept 14-16 conference online is making that look unlikely.

"We wanted to give the Platts APPEC community plenty of notice that it would not be feasible to host a physical event this year, after careful consideration of the safety of panelists, delegates and our own people," S&P Global Platts said in a statement. The conference will be held virtually this year, it added.

Spokespeople for BP, Saudi Aramco and Vitol couldn't comment on whether they'd still be holding their APPEC events.

In 2019, APPEC was held at the Raffles City Convention Centre in Singapore's central business district with speakers including Trafigura Group's Ben Luckock and Citigroup's Ed Morse and a video address by OPEC secretary general Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo.

The 2020 gathering would have been an opportunity to swap notes on the extraordinary events that have beset the oil market this year, from Russia and Saudi Arabia's catastrophic falling-out to negative prices and, of course, the fallout and fledgling recovery from Covid-19.

Singapore may well be on the road to normality by the time September comes around, but for now the densely-populated city-state is still in the midst of a lockdown as it battles to contain the virus. The country's health ministry reported more than 12,000 active cases as of June 9.

"We considered advisory communications issued by the World Health Organization about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as logistical challenges of travel bans that remain in place and the impact of stringent social distancing measures," S&P Global Platts said.

It's not just oil traders who will miss APPEC, particularly with the fate of September's other flagship event, the Formula 1 night race, still up in the air. Every year, it's a booster shot for Singapore's hotels, convention centres, bars, caterers and taxi drivers. As the country grapples with a slowing economy and job losses, APPEC's absence will be felt particularly keenly.

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