LONDON (Reuters) - Trading house Trafigura [TRAFGF.UL] is shipping a rare cargo of gasoline from China to the United States, as the recent weakening of the Asian market after months of stock builds opens up new routes.
Asian gasoline stocks have risen sharply in recent months as traders and refiners betting on strong summer demand for the road fuel in China and other countries ramped up imports and production.
China's teapot refineries, which only recently gained government approval to import crude oil and export products, added to the excess.
Between imports and sky-high production, gasoline prices and refining margins fell sharply in recent weeks as once-importing countries starting to export volumes.
The tanker Dalmacija is currently sailing across the Pacific Ocean after loading a part cargo at the port of Changzhou near Shanghai in early April before stopping at the port of Laizhu in northern China in mid-month to load a further cargo, according to Reuters ship tracking data.
After waiting off the coast of South Korea for a day, the vessel changed direction with orders to go to Houston, Texas, according to the data.
Traders said the tanker, which is on a time charter to Trafigura, was loaded with gasoline or blending components for the fuel, but could end up in Latin America.
East-bound gasoline exports from Asia to the Americas are extremely rare, according to traders, as North and Latin American countries are mostly supplied from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Europe.
"A lot of distillate goes from Asia to Latin America," one trader said. "But on gasoline, it's very unusual."
A gasoline cargo sailing from Asia into the U.S. Gulf - the country's main refining hub - would be even more unusual.
But the drop in Asian prices allowed the arbitrage to open briefly, according to traders, a move that could happen more frequently as refiners and traders in Asia look for the best margins.
Last week, sources said that Trafigura loaded a 35,000 cargo of 92-octane gasoline that it purchased from teapot refiner Sinochem Hongrun, partly owned by state-run Sinochem Corp [SASADA.UL].
Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar; Editing by Susan Fenton