Dirtier and heavier oil in demand as market shifts
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Dirtier and heavier oil in demand as market shifts

SINGAPORE - Oil that is more sulphurous and dense is gaining popularity in the Asian physical market in a rare shift away from the usual pattern as global crude flows change and rewards from refining move in its favour.

Middle Eastern varieties that have medium-density and higher sulphur such as Oman and Upper Zakum are now fetching bigger spot premiums than grades like Murban. That is unusual as Murban is a lighter oil, typically regarded as better quality since it has a rich yield of refined fuels such as diesel.

The new pattern reflects underlying changes in supply and demand that span the global crude market. Opec+ supply cuts have crimped flows of dirtier crudes, while at the same time, US producers have been boosting exports of lighter varieties. On the demand side, meanwhile, margins on high-sulphur fuel oil — made more from medium-sour grades - have risen just as profits in Asia from producing diesel fell, according to Bloomberg Fair Value data.

Other factors have also been at work, according to traders. While diesel has been showing signs of weakness globally, fuel oil - made from the heavier barrels - has seen a boost driven by seasonal demand, with the Middle East consuming more for power generation in the summer months, they said.

In addition, Abu Dhabi has been shipping more lighter oil, while curbing flows of its denser Upper Zakum variety to process that domestically.

Elsewhere, Mexico’s halt to some exports has also reduced flows of sour heavy crude. 

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