Unprecedented US Exports Are Weighing on Global Crude Market

Early December Shipping Estimates See Exports at Record High
Oil tanker
An oil tanker waits near Marathon Petroleum's Anacortes Refinery in Anacortes, Wash. (David Ryder/Getty Images via Bloomberg News)

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Exports of U.S. crude are nearing a record of 6 million barrels a day — flooding the market with oil and weighing on prices from Europe to Asia.

Shipments for the week ended Dec. 1 could reach about 5.7 million barrels a day, according to ship-tracking firms Kpler and Vortexa. Macquarie, meanwhile, sees exports hitting 5.9 million barrels a day. Either estimate would be a record high if confirmed by the Energy Administration Information data on Dec. 6.

The flood of U.S. crude barrels comes as domestic production surges to a record above 13 million barrels a day, catching some market participants by surprise. While OPEC and allies have agreed to deepen output cuts next year to help balance markets, non-OPEC supplies continue to grow, with overall inventories outpacing demand.

The glut has weakened U.S. crude timespreads, a key gauge of balances, which are flashing signs of oversupply into May next year. International benchmark Brent has also softened while the bullish backwardated structure in prompt timespreads for Dubai — the region’s benchmark oil — has shrunk to just 30 cents a barrel, compared with over $1 last month.

U.S. crude timespread

In Europe, ample availability of U.S. oil along with other regional supplies have depressed physical crude prices and triggered worries about a glut. WTI Midland, currently the cheapest grade that sets the Dated Brent benchmark, traded at the lowest in more than four months. Norway’s Johan Sverdrup crude is trading at a discount of $1.80-$1.90 a barrel from a premium of nearly $2 a month ago.

Some of the U.S. export surge is seasonal, as traders look to de-stock crude barrels to reduce year-end tax obligations. And while some of that supply will inevitably end up in Asia, where trading for March delivery is just getting started, demand there has so far been muted. Around 4 million barrels of American crude has been purchased by South Korean buyers so far this month.

Maintenance work at Abu Dhabi National Oil Co’s biggest refinery is also freeing up more Murban crude for exports to Asia, where it’s competing with U.S. supplies. The premium of Murban futures tumbled to 25 cents a barrel against Dubai swaps on the ICE Futures Abu Dhabi exchange on Dec. 4, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That compares with a premium of more than $2 a month earlier.

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