MOSCOW (MRC) -- Asian refiners are on the hunt for crude oil to replace Kuwaiti supply as the OPEC producer cuts exports by nearly a fifth to feed its huge new refinery, which is driving up prices for other sour crudes and likely to squeeze profit margins, said Hydrocarbonprocessing.
Lower Kuwaiti exports follow cuts from OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia that have pushed Brent prices close to USD90 a barrel and left little wriggle room for Asia's refiners, reliant on the Middle East for more than two-thirds of crude imports.
Chinese refiners, which have invested heavily in new plants designed to process sour oil, are especially exposed. Discounted oil from Russia has eased some of the pain, replacing some Kuwaiti supply, largely to China and India.
But most of Kuwait's customers will have to pay up for similar quality oil from other suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates or buy more expensive sweet grades from other regions. "Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the top contenders for filling the supply gap in the Middle East due to their production and export of medium sour barrels," said Janiv Shah, an analyst at consultancy Rystad Energy.
"It is improbable that they will be able to entirely meet the demand." Sustained output cuts from OPEC producers and their allies and new refining capacity designed to process sour crude could lead to tight supply until the end of 2024, Energy Aspects analyst Sun Jianan said.
Kuwait's crude shipments shrank by about 10% to 1.61 million barrels per day (bpd) in January-July from the same period in 2022 as its Al Zour refinery ramped up, according to Kpler data. Exports to Taiwan, China and India dropped more than 17% during the same period, while volumes for Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand fell to zero, the data showed.
In the second half, Kuwait will reduce its exports by up to 300,000 bpd, down 18% from the first half, as it diverts supply to the 615,000 bpd Al Zour plant, which cranked up its third and final crude distillation unit (CDU) in July, according to consultancies FGE, Energy Aspects, Rystad Energy and S&P Global Commodity Insights.
Additionally, Kuwait's joint venture 230,000 bpd Duqm refinery in Oman is scheduled to start operation by end-2023, which could reduce Kuwaiti crude exports by a further 100,000 bpd to 200,000 bpd in 2024, the consultancies said.
Kuwait Petroleum Corp (KPC) has notified buyers that volumes could fluctuate each month and could be further reduced once Al Zour is at full operation, a source familiar with the matter said. KPC did not respond to Reuters' inquiry seeking comment.
We remind, U.S. motorists hoping to squeeze out one last trip before the Labor Day holiday and school begins are finding pump prices that have surged to their highest level this year on tighter gasoline supplies. Consumers tend to get a break from steeper fuel costs as peak vacation travel ebbs.