Rising imports of US crude oil into Asia in the past few months will bring stronger competition in the months ahead for crudes from Nigeria and other West African countries, traders have said.

S&P Global Platts reported that the market sources highlighted the March loading programme for Nigeria.

Nigerian crude has had a difficult time clearing for several weeks, as offer levels were too high to attract buying interest from European refineries, which have been suffering from poor refinery margins on naphtha and petrol.

“What is more worrying is a structural change in the supply of US crude to Asia. It seems like more Asian buyers are increasingly terming US crude,” a crude oil trader said.

The quick price correction of Nigerian grades and narrow Brent-Dubai Exchange of Futures for Swaps spread has aided several Nigerian grades such as Agbami, Qua Iboe and Akpo to find homes in Southeast Asia. However, market sources had said the narrow EFS would not be enough to buoy the April programme.

“Looking at the WTI/Dubai and the WTI/Brent spreads, WAF will have to compete with US grades going to the East,” one market source said.

“Arbitrage economics remain highly favourable for more US crude purchases. The latest OPEC cut seems to be keeping the Dubai price complex relatively expensive,” a senior official at Seoul-based Korea Petroleum Association said.

Several sources have pointed to a similar picture for some of the lighter Angolan grades such as Girassol, Kissanje and Cabinda.

All Angolan grades across the light to the heavy spectrum have been performing extremely well in the March trading cycle as a result of increased buying from Chinese refiners prior to Chinese New Year, as well as newly allocated import quotas for Chinese teapot refineries and a narrow EFS.

However, trading sources had increasingly said the April trading cycle would look different. Some traders said April would only be supportive for selected Angolan crudes going into China, as Eastern buyers would be more focused on which grades were more desired at home.

“Heavy grades will be supportive, but light ones such as Cabinda and Girassol will be under pressure,” a trader said.

Such a development would put lighter Angolan grades under pressure due to heightening competition from US barrels, which are priced on a heavier discount compared to grades priced against Dated Brent.

Freight costs from the US Gulf Coast to Asia have fallen by about a third since early December, making the case for greater loadings of US crude to the region. Whereas freight from West Africa to Asia have increased recently, making it currently about 70 cents per barrel more expensive to bring Angolan crude to the market.

Around 17 VLCCs have been fixed to load crude from the US Gulf Coast to Eastern destinations for February-loading cargoes, shipping reports showed, with many more likely booked outside of reported fixtures.

According to S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow and shipping reports for January-loading cargoes, 16 VLCCs were seen carrying US crude from the US Gulf Coast to Eastern destinations.

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