OPEC’s second-largest producer is stepping up the campaign to get more for its oil by looking to revamp the way it sells crude to its biggest customers.
Iraq is considering plans to use a new reference price for sales to Asia, according to traders, who received a notice from the state oil company SOMO.
The producer is proposing to use a contract traded on the Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME) as a benchmark for pricing Basrah crude, replacing the formula it currently uses along with competitors such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran.
As a persistent oversupply caps oil prices at about US$50 a barrel and OPEC’s output quotas limit production, Iraq is looking to squeeze every drop of value out of its crude.
SOMO has already sold its first-ever cargo in a new auction system this year and is now looking to link sales to prices published by DME because it thinks the current mechanism undervalues the oil, industry consultant Energy Aspects said.
“The Iraqis are probably looking at the high premiums paid for their oil that’s over and beyond their announced official prices, and recognizing that there’s money left on the table,” said Nevyn Nah, a Singapore-based analyst at Energy Aspects.
“I’d say SOMO is steps ahead of the rest of Middle East in its intention to capture their oil’s value, but the proposal needs some refinement and feedback from buyers,” Nah said.
SOMO did not respond to requests for a comment.
In the note to Asian buyers, SOMO said it is considering a benchmark based off the DME Oman contract two months before the Iraqi cargos are scheduled to load, the traders said.
That is a shift from the current practice of using the mean of Oman and Dubai crude prices in the loading month, which are published by S&P Global Platts.
SOMO has asked for customers’ feedback by tomorrow, the traders said.
There are potential cost implications for buyers under the proposed system. They would have to hedge the risk that prices will fluctuate in the time between the pricing month and the month of loading, and that represents an additional expense.
“There’s a huge flat-price exposure for refiners who lock in their Basrah crude price three to four months before the oil is refined into products, such as diesel, and sold,” Nah said.
Most Asian refiners typically secure the profits from turning crude into fuel on the basis of benchmark Dubai and Brent crude.
If Iraq sells on the basis of DME Oman, refiners would also need to hedge against potential fluctuations in the spread between those reference prices, Nah said.
While cargos loading in any given month would be priced two months in advance, SOMO typically only tells its customers whether they will be allocated a shipment about one month before it is scheduled to load.
That means buyers potentially will not know whether to hedge or not because they will not be sure if they will be allocated a cargo.
It will also be hard to assess the competitiveness of Iraqi crude relative to rival oil from Saudi Arabia or Iran, because they will have different benchmarks and pricing months, Ivy Global Energy director Tushar Tarun Bansal said.
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