One year of Ukraine war prompts sweeping shifts in Asian oil flows
From OPEC’s market share in India’s imports falling to a decade low to China’s appetite for Russian crude posting double-digit growth, one year of conflict between Russia and Ukraine has dramatically altered Asia’s oil flow map.
As Moscow witnessed sanctions and restrictions, plentiful availability of discounted Russian crudes whetted the appetite of import-dependent Asia, which saw it as an opportunity to bring in as many cargoes as possible to cushion the impact of sky-high global energy prices.
The trend is expected to continue in 2023. The first sign of that was visible in January numbers. According to data from S&P Global Commodities at Sea, Russian seaborne crude exports hit an eight-month high in January, with exports to China and India hitting record highs of 1.12 million b/d and 1.3 million b/d, respectively.
And in 2023, the overall volume of oil shipments from Russia to Asia is expected to rise since more Russian oil products are expected to flow, in addition to the robust volumes of crude, as the EU ban on Russian products came into effect on Feb. 5.
- India ended 2022 with a sevenfold increase in Russian crude imports from a year earlier. The import volume from Russia in 2022 was 700,000 b/d, up from 100,000 b/d in 2021. That boosted the Russian crude market share in India’s overall crude import basket to around 15% in 2022, from just 2.2% in 2021
- In 2023, S&P Global Commodity Insights expects the share of Russian crude to be around 1.2 million-1.5 million b/d, or about 25%-30% of India’s total crude imports.
- Russia taking a much bigger market share in India in 2022 has dragged down OPEC’s share to the lowest in more than a decade. OPEC saw its share of India’s crude imports shrink to 64.5% in 2022, from a peak of 87% in 2008.
- Higher intake of Russian oil reduced India’s appetite for African grades, whose share in 2022 imports declined to a 17-year low while that of Latin America plunged to the lowest in 15 years.
- China’s crude imports from Russia in 2022 increased 10.2% year on year to 1.75 million b/d, customs data showed. The independent refiners’ Russian feedstock imports increased by 14% on the year to reach a record high of 616,526 b/d in 2022.
- Feedstock imports from Russia accounted for 18% of China’s independent sector’s feedstock imports in 2022, up by three percentage points from a year earlier.
- Russia’s ESPO crude flows into China’s independent refining sector surged to record monthly high of 3.3 million mt (780,000 b/d) in January.
- As Russian inflows posted a double-digit growth, inflows from Latin America fell 17% in 2022 to 37.32 million mt, or 749,000 b/d, while shipments from Africa to China dropped 24.5% year on year to 1.02 million b/d, according to China’s customs data.
- Major South Korean and Japanese refiners said they would remain hesitant about purchasing Russian crude in 2023. South Korea’s Russian crude imports tumbled 59.7% in 2022 to 21.68 million barrels, data from Korea National Oil Corp. showed. Japan’s crude imports from Russia plunged 60.2% in 2022 to 35,548 b/d, data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed.
- Chinese and Indian refiners’ strong focus on relatively cheaper Russian crude allowed some room for other Asian nations to take more Middle Eastern supplies. South Korea secured 354 million barrels from Saudi Arabia in 2022, up 21.8% from 2021. Japan’s crude imports from the UAE in 2022 rose 19% to 1.04 million b/d.
- China’s LPG imports from Russia soared to 159,600 mt in 2022 from around 14,000 mt in 2021.
- Singapore’s Russian naphtha imports have risen from 277,937 mt in 2022 to 361,848 mt year to date, as of the week ended Feb. 15, 2023, Enterprise Singapore data showed, as Russian origin barrels wait in Southeast Asia before finding final alternative outlets following the EU ban.
- Far East Russian grades continue to trade at steep discounts in Asia. Platts assessed second-month ESPO Blend crude at front-month Dubai minus $11.55/b on an FOB Kozmino basis Feb. 22.
- Russian ESPO, Urals assessed at double-digit discounts to Platts Dated Brent
- Sokol was assessed at a discount of $8.35/b to Platts front-month Dubai crude assessments Feb. 22, on a CFR North Asia basis, while Sakhalin Blend crude was assessed at a discount of $10.30/b CFR North Asia.
- The Dubai market structure has been trending lower since the third quarter of 2022 as Indian and Chinese traders shift focus to cheap and attractive Russian barrels. The spread between front-month Platts cash Dubai and same-month Dubai swap has averaged $1.53/b to date in the first quarter 2023, down from the $2.98/b average in Q4 2022 and $6.47/b in Q3 last year.
- Middle Eastern sour crude official selling prices have also been trending lower as Chinese and Indian refiners heavily favor Russian barrels. Saudi Aramco set the OSP for its Arab Light crude for loading in March at a premium of $2/b to the Platts Dubai/Oman average. In comparison, the OSP for the medium sour Saudi grade commanded a premium of $9.80/b for cargoes loaded in September 2022.
- Middle Eastern sour crude official selling prices under pressure in Asia as China, India heavily favor Russian crude
- On Feb. 14, Platts decided to no longer include Russia as part of the open origin basis of its gasoline assessments in Asia and the Middle East amid concerns of the impact on trading operations around Singapore following EU sanctions on Russian oil products and the price cap mechanism by G7 member countries.
- Platts assessments of Asian naphtha no longer reflect Russia-origin product, as material of Russian origin was no longer deemed merchantable for a significant portion of the Asia naphtha spot market on the same basis as other production regions, S&P Global wrote in a clarification note on April 8, 2022.
- The respective cash differentials for spot paraffinic naphtha in the Middle East and Northeast Asia against the benchmark Mean of Platts Arab Gulf and Mean of Platts Japan naphtha assessments surged to 11-month highs in the week of Feb. 19, as less cargoes from the Mediterranean head East amid tight supply in Europe, while South Korean petrochemical companies stopped importing naphtha from Russia but were buying more from Qatar.
- Platts assessed the FOB Arab Gulf naphtha differential at $51/mt on Feb. 22, up 126% on the month, while the CFR Korea naphtha differential surged 443% on the month to $19/mt at the Feb. 22 Asian close.
- Arab Gulf spot naphtha premium surges as fewer Mediterranean cargoes head east
- Europe’s need to diversify middle distillate supply sources in 2023 may present an opportunity for Asian refiners to assess the profitability of shifting some of their export volumes to the West, but the recent arbitrage window is rather narrow, while logistics costs for oil product shipments from the Far East to Europe are high, according to refinery and trading sources in Seoul and Singapore.
- Reflecting the unattractive East-West arbitrage economics, the front-month gasoil Exchange of Futures for Swaps spread was assessed by Platts at minus $32.85/mt at the 0830 GMT Asian close Feb. 22, narrowing from minus $74.04/mt at the start of the year, S&P Global data showed.
- Sakhalinskaya Energia, the new operator of the Sakhalin 2 LNG project where Sakhalin Blend crude is produced, said the company has been implementing a rational field development scenario to ensure stable production.
- In June 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree transferring all rights and obligations held by Sakhalin Energy to the new company Sakhalinskaya Energia. Gazprom now holds a 50% shareholding plus one share in the new company.
- Sakhalinskaya Energia plans to regularly offer the light sweet crude in the market. China-based traders and Indian oil companies often move Far East Russian barrels to leased storage facilities in South Korea’s southern coastal city of Yeosu, before taking the cargoes to their customers in China and India.