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Asia Splurges On Record Oil Imports Ahead Of Sanctions On Russia

The biggest buyers in Asia imported a record volume of oil in November as the world’s major importers rushed to stock up on cheaper crude ahead of the EU embargo and the price cap on Russian oil in effect from December 5.

Lower benchmark prices and the push to secure oil supplies before the sanctions against Russia create additional uncertainties in terms of marine transportation services and, possibly, a shortage of tankers. To get under the wire of these tough market conditions, China, India, Japan, and South Korea imported high crude volumes in November despite lackluster demand in China due to renewed Covid restrictions

Asia imported a record 29.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in November, according to data from Refinitiv Oil Research cited by Reuters’ Asia Commodities and Energy Columnist Clyde Russell. To compare, Asian imports stood at 25.6 million bpd in October and 26.6 million bpd in September.

The record imports for November could be just temporary, but they show that Asian buyers wanted to stock up on crude, including from Russia, ahead of the December 5 bans that could make trade with Russian cargoes more difficult due to potential issues with the availability of tankers, insurers, and financiers that would back trade in Russian crude.

The biggest crude oil buyers in Asia, China and India, haven’t joined the price cap mechanism and have signaled that their energy security and continued ability to import crude from all exporters are at the top of their import policy strategies.

Just ahead of the ban and the G7-EU price cap on Russian oil, some Chinese and Indian buyers have been hesitant to purchase Russian cargoes loading after December 5 until there are more details on how the price cap will be enforced.

Yet, both China and India are now demanding huge discounts for the Russian oil they are willing to buy, Bloomberg oil strategist Julian Lee wrote in a recent analysis.

Currently, China and India account for around two-thirds of Russia’s crude oil exports by sea, and the Asian buyers are exercising the negotiating power they have over Russia, Lee notes. If Russia wants to continue selling its oil to its new top customers, it must contend with the deep discounts the two buyers demand.

As of the end of last week, Russia’s flagship crude grade, Urals, traded at $52 per barrel—a $33.28 discount to Brent Crude. This compares with the 2021 average discount of Urals to Brent of $2.85 per barrel.

In November, Russia was the top oil supplier to both China and India, beating again Saudi Arabia to the top spot in China and overtaking another OPEC heavyweight, Iraq, as the top supplier to India, Refinitiv’s data showed.

China’s imports from Russia rose to 1.9 million bpd in November from 1.82 million bpd in October and were ahead of deliveries from Saudi Arabia, which stood at 1.72 million bpd last month, the data showed.

India, for its part, imported a record high volume of Russian crude of 1 million bpd in November, with Russia beating Iraq, which supplied 960,000 bpd to India. The world’s third-largest oil importer saw crude imports rise to a four-month high in November due to robust domestic demand and the rush to buy Russian oil ahead of the EU-G7 bans and sanctions.

Total Chinese crude oil imports were estimated by Refinitiv at 12.16 million bpd in November – the highest since March 2021, and much higher than the 10.2 million bpd in imports in October. The high Chinese imports were surely not the result of strong domestic demand—they had more to do with the race to buy lower-priced crude and a rise in fuel exports now that refiners have year-end quotas for more fuel shipments and enjoy good refining margins.

Going forward, the estimated record Asian oil imports may not repeat for months due to the still many unknowns about how the oil trade will be impacted by the coming sanctions on Russian exports.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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