US crude exports to South Korea soar
US Gulf Coast crude exports to South Korea nearly tripled week on week, coinciding with wider Dubai/LOOP Sour and Brent/WTI swap spread and despite persistently high freight rates from the US Gulf Coast to North Asia.
Waterborne crude exports from PADD III to South Korea increased by 2.717 million barrels week on week to 4.225 million barrels for the week ended October 19, according to data from PIRA.
South Korea has emerged as one of the top buyers of US crude in recent month, taking both USGC light sweet grades like WTI MEH as well as medium sour grades Mars, Poseidon and Southern Green Canyon.
The increase in exports to South Korea coincided with a wider Dubai/LOOP Sour swap spread.
Second-month Dubai’s premium over front-month LOOP Sour has increased $4.97/b since the start of October to $4.55/b.
Dubai began the month at a discount to LOOP Sour.
As Dubai’s premium to LOOP Sour increases, USGC domestic medium sour grades become more competitive with comparable Dubai-based Middle Eastern grades in export markets.
At the same time, the Brent/WTI swap spread widened, making domestic light sweet grades more competitive with comparable Brent-based grades in export markets.
Brent’s premium over WTI since the start of the month has increased 55 cents/b to $9.93/b.
The export flows from the USGC to South Korea ramped up despite soaring freight costs in the past few weeks that have limited exports to other areas of the world.
South Korean buyers of US crude, however, receive government freight kickbacks that can lower the total cost to ship from the USGC to Asia.
The kickbacks are meant to incentivize buyers to diversify sources of crude away from more volatile Middle Eastern supply and toward areas of more stable supply, including the US.