Global oil bargains for Asia stretch to Mexico as ships set sail

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TOKYO/SEOUL (Feb 27): Ships carrying oil from Mexico are sailing to South Korea for the first time in more than two decades as the U.S. shale boom brings bargains from around the globe.

The voyage is evidence of the competition OPEC producers face as the U.S. pumps the most oil in more than three decades, exacerbating a global glut in supplies while demand slows in Asia. Refiners in South Korea and Japan ordered at least eight cargoes from the Latin American nation this year, including the most heavily discounted Mexican oil in two decades, according to company officials and shipping data compiled by Bloomberg.

The fight for market share among global producers is playing out in Asia as increased output from American shale fields reduces the need for imports in the world’s biggest oil- consuming nation. Mexico’s sales to the U.S., its largest buyer, dropped 6.5 percent in the first eleven months of last year.

“Middle East and Mexican crude grades have similar specifications, which means Korean refiners don’t have to change much when they process Mexican oil,” Kim Jae Kyung, a research fellow at Korea Energy Economics Institute, said by phone Thursday. “Middle East producers will have to fight for market share.”

Petroleos Mexicanos, the national oil producer known as Pemex, sold its Isthmus light crude in February to Asian buyers at $7.85 a barrel below the average of the benchmark Oman and Dubai grades. That was the biggest discount since at least 1995, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The discount for the company’s Maya heavy grade was the most since 2009 in January, according to the data.

Crude Discount

Pemex press officials didn’t respond to e-mailed questions seeking comment. The company was planning to export light crude to Japan, Hawaii, India and Switzerland, and would continue to pursue new partners in Asia and the Pacific region, Gustavo Hernandez, Pemex’s director of exploration and production, said last year.

Data from state-run Korea National Oil Corp. shows the last time the North Asian country bought oil from Mexico was in July 1992. Pemex said in February 2014 that it shipped crude to Japan for the first time in 11 years.

Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has cut the price differential for its crude supplies to Asia 10 times in the past 15 months, setting its benchmark Arab Light at a record discount of $2.30 a barrel in March. Other Middle East suppliers including Iran and Kuwait typically follow the kingdom’s pricing.

Saudi Arabia led a decision by OPEC in November to maintain output quotas in an attempt to curb higher-cost supply from outside the group and reduce an oversupply that drove global prices almost 50 percent lower in 2014.

Asian Demand

Asia will account for two-thirds of the growth in global oil demand this year, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. Daily consumption of 31.2 million barrels will take the region above the Americas at 31.1 million barrels.

Asian refiners are diversifying suppliers to strengthen their bargaining position, according to Kim.

South Korea’s GS Caltex Corp. bought 1 million barrels of Mexican crude for delivery next month as the company seeks to diversify its supplies, said a company official who asked not to be identified because of internal policy.

Cosmo Oil Co., a Japanese refiner, bought three Isthmus oil cargoes of 1 million barrels each for delivery this year, said a company official who asked not to be identified. The crude will load from the Salina Cruz port on Mexico’s west coast, according to the official.

Hyundai Oilbank Co., which operates the Daesan refinery in South Korea, ordered four shiploads of oil from the Latin American country for delivery this year. They include the vessels Maran Penelope and Narmada Spirit, according to ship fixture data compiled by Bloomberg.