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Analysis: Vietnam gasoline supply hike leads South Korea to shift focus to Mexico, Oceania

Vietnam’s growing self-sufficiency in auto fuel requirements following the startup of a new refinery complex at Nghi Son raised alarm bells among South Korean gasoline suppliers. The Southeast Asian market may no longer serve as a major sales outlet, making a case for the refiners to shift focus to other markets including Oceania and the Americas.

South Korea exported 298,000 barrels of gasoline to Vietnam in August, down 75% from July, latest data from state-owned Korea National Oil Corp. showed.
During the first half of the year, South Korean refiners exported an average of 2.08 million barrels/month to Vietnam, compared with 2.31 million barrels/month in H2 2017 and 2.28 million barrels/month in H1 last year.

Ample supply from Vietnam’s 130,000 b/d refinery at Dung Quat and the start of domestic gasoline sales from the new Nghi Son refinery would help the country become self-sufficient in auto fuel requirements and reduce in dependence on gasoline from South Korea.

First trial runs at the Nghi Son refining complex began on February 28. Operator Nghi Son Refinery and Petrochemical said earlier that the company planned to operate the plant at full capacity from early September, from around 50% in July and 75% in August.

“Since the start of NSRP [in May], Vietnam has decreased gasoline imports from Korea and became self-sufficient in gasoline requirements,” a refinery source based in Vietnam told S&P Global Platts earlier.

SALES TO MEXICO, OCEANIA

Amid growing concerns over faltering market share in Asia, Hyundai Oilbank stepped up its efforts to diversify its export markets. South Korea’s smallest refiner by capacity signed a term supply contract to sell 2.1 million barrels of gasoline to Mexico’s PMI Comercio Internacional during the first half of next year, a company official said Thursday.

This is the first time that it has signed a long-term contract with the Mexican state-owned oil company.

“This is part of our efforts to diversify oil product destinations beyond traditional Asian markets, which account for 57% of our gasoline exports. We are facing tougher challenges in the Asian market because China, which has been the largest importer of South Korea’s oil products, is now expanding its refining facilities and exporting oil products,” the company official said.

“We expect this deal with Mexico’s PIM to serve as a bridgehead for the expansion of exports of our petroleum products to the Latin American region,” he said, adding that it had been exporting spot gasoline cargoes to Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador since 2015.

Gasoline exports to Oceania saw a sharp uptick in August. Exports to Australia rose 49% month on month to 861,000 barrels, while shipments to New Zealand jumped 164% to 467,000 barrels in August, KNOC data showed.

For the Australian market, however, South Korean refiners would have to compete with increasing supplies from Europe and even the US, market sources said.

“It seems quite natural for arbitrage cargoes to move from Europe to Australia this year as the spread is well supported,” a trader with a South Korean refiner said.

The spread between Platts FOB front-month Singapore gasoline swap and the same-month Platts Eurobob barge swap was mostly positive in September. The spread averaged plus $1.05/b last month, compared with minus $2.42/b in August, Platts data showed. The spread was last assessed at $1.67/b on Wednesday.

SPOT SALES TO INDONESIA

Despite the Indonesian government’s efforts to trim the energy import bill amid widening current account deficit and a sharp depreciation of the rupiah, South Korean gasoline suppliers may continue to look at it as a destination because of its huge baseline fuel demand.

Shipping data showed South Korea-Indonesia trade flows may increase in September. An unidentified trading company shipped 60,000 mt of gasoline on the BW Clyde from Ulsan to Merak and SK Energy chartered the FPMC P Hero to ship 60,000 mt of gasoline from Ulsan to Merak.

“The oil has to go somewhere and it is whichever part of the market can absorb. Indonesia being the biggest buyer in this region would be a natural home. Korea can produce 88 RON gasoline and Indonesia does buy 92 RON gasoline,” said a trader with another South Korean refiner.

Trade sources said SK Energy was awarded the majority of Pertamina’s 88 RON and 92 RON gasoline term tenders for Q4, where it had sought at least one cargo a month for each grade in parcel sizes of 100,00-250,000 barrels each.
Source: Platts

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