January 14, 2014 / 10:21 AM / in 4 years

Saudi to keep 2014 China crude contract volumes steady -trade

* Saudis to lose market share as overall crude imports rise
    * China to take more oil from Iraq, Kazakhstan, Russia
    * New refineries looking beyond Saudis for core supply

    By Chen Aizhu and Judy Hua
    BEIJING, Jan 14 (Reuters) - China's top crude supplier Saudi
Arabia is set to ship about the same volumes to Chinese buyers
in 2014 as it did last year, as the world's second-largest oil
consumer takes more from Iraq and Central Asia, traders said.
    Iraq has been offering cheaper prices and better payment
terms to Asian buyers this year as it increases its output,
while two new refineries in China are designed to run on crude
from suppliers in Kazakhstan, Russia and the Middle East.
    Since those two refineries will provide the bulk of China's
oil demand growth in 2014, Saudi Arabia has been left with
little room to increase its Chinese contract volumes. That means
its 20 percent share of the China market will fall.    
    Saudi Arabia should still retain its spot as China's No. 1
crude supplier, although Iraq looks poised to challenge Angola
as the second largest. 
    "None of the lifters have requested any additional volume
for next year," said a Beijing-based trader with direct
knowledge of the Saudi oil exports to China.    
    Traders estimated that annual Saudi contract volumes to
China would hold at about 1.17 million barrels per day (bpd),
with top refiner Sinopec Corp  taking over
80 percent of the supplies. The rest will be split between
PetroChina Co Ltd  and Sinochem Corp.       
    China's crude imports grew 4 percent in 2013, or by an
addition of just under 220,000 barrels per day, in the slowest
growth in three years, customs data has shown. 
    PetroChina's Sichuan and Sinochem's Quanzhou refineries,
with a combined run capacity of 440,000 bpd, are expected online
this year and both are looking past Saudi Arabia for crude.
    PetroChina's landlocked Sichuan plant is designed to process
oil from Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as the company's own
output in northwest China.
    The Sinochem plant, in Fujian province, will be looking to
Iraq, Oman and Kuwait for oil, traders have said.
    "Revamps made at Sinopec refineries in recent years have
(also) driven plants to hunt for heavier, cheaper grades, which
are not necessarily what the Saudis want to sell more of to
China," said a trader with top refiner Sinopec Corp. 
    In the first 11 months of 2013, China bought 49.74 million
tonnes of Saudi crude, or 1.09 million bpd, up slightly from a
year earlier and making up a fifth of total imports. 
    "For a single supplier to have a market share of 20 percent,
that is already a lot," the Sinopec trader said.
    Refineries have also boosted imports from Iraq, where
Chinese oil companies are due for a growing amount of payment in
oil for their help in lifting Iraqi oil output.
    Iraqi crude, mainly Basra Light, is generally cheaper than
similar Saudi grades.
    Chinese firms have signed up for 882,000 bpd of crude with
Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation for 2014, up 68 percent
from 2013, though companies may resell some of the barrels.
    Iraqi exports to China expanded by around 150,000 bpd
between January and November in 2013, customs data shows, making
up over 80 percent of China's crude import growth for those
    Angola was China's second biggest supplier last year,
shipping in about 786,400 bpd through November, down more than 2
percent from the same period in 2012.
    Some additional demand for Saudi oil may emerge in the
second half of the year when new facilities enter steady
operations, traders said.
    But the increases may be so slight that they would fall
within the tolerances that allow small fluctuations below or
above contractual amounts, the traders said. 
    Sinochem, which has so far acted only as an import agent for
Saudi oil imports for a PetroChina-controlled refinery, may buy
from the kingdom on its own behalf for its first fully-owned
refinery at Quanzhou. 
    "It's hard to decide the Saudi volume for Quanzhou now
...(Sinochem) will coordinate with Aramco to possibly raise the
volume when the plant starts," said a third industry official.  
    PetroChina could also seek additional Saudi oil for its
Qinzhou plant in southern province of Guangxi, when it finishes
an upgrading in the second quarter to process sour crude.
    Breakdowns of Saudi term buyers (in bpd), according to
traders' estimate:
Buyer        2014        2013        
Unipec     760,000     760,000      
FREP       200,000     200,000      
Chinaoil   160,000     160,000     
Sinochem    50,000      50,000       
TOTAL     1.17 mln    1.17 mln       

(Unipec is the trading arm of Sinopec Corp; FREP is a joint
venture refinery between Saudi Aramco, Sinopec and Exxon Mobil;
Chinaoil is the trading arm of PetroChina.)

 (Editing by Tom Hogue)
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