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UAE oil benchmark plan confused by Brent comment U-turn

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - A United Arab Emirates plan to launch its own global oil benchmark was thrown into confusion on Tuesday after comments made by its own national oil company.

A general view of ADNOC headquarters in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/File Photo

ADNOC first said it sees Murban as a contract to replace the global Brent benchmark, only to retract the comment.

The development highlights a complex nature of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s (ADNOC) Murban futures contract.

It will be traded on a new local exchange, ICE Futures Abu Dhabi (IFAD), that will be co-owned by Abu Dhabi, several oil majors and the Intercontinental Exchange Inc ICE.N, which is also home to Brent trading.

“We want to give the industry Murban as a replacement for Brent crude futures,” Philippe Khoury, the head of trading at ADNOC, told Abu Dhabi’s main annual oil show.

He said Brent production volumes were declining. The industry has long complained about falling North Sea production which makes Brent illiquid and vulnerable to manipulations.

But ADNOC later retracted Khoury’s comment and changed it to “our ambition is for the market to use Murban as a price marker alongside Brent crude futures, the global benchmark for oil”.

ADNOC said it was retracting the comments because they did not reflect the company’s position.

ICE did not respond to a request for comment.

ICE wants to launch the new exchange in the first half of 2020 to host ADNOC’s flagship Murban crude grade.

“We still have to demonstrate that over time the community can trust the crude as a benchmark,” Khoury added.

Oil majors BP BP.L, Total TOTF.PA, Inpex 1605.T, Vitol [VITOLV.UL], Shell RDSa.AS, Petrochina 601857.SS, Korea's GS Caltex, Japan's JXTG 5020.T and Thailand's PTT PTT.BK have agreed to become partners in the new exchange.

The exact split of stakes in the new exchange has yet to be decided. Abu Dhabi owns ADNOC and is effectively a market maker for Murban.

Vitol CEO Russel Hardy said it would take time to build liquidity on the new exchange, and that Brent, a basket of different crude qualities, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) were very established.

“There’s a great deal of different constituents playing in those markets ... these things will take time to build up on the exchange here,” he said at the same panel discussion.

“It is right to have that level of ambition but it will take some time to build that level of liquidity,” he said of ADNOC’s plans for Murban.

The new contract will create an alternative benchmark to the most commonly used Middle East standard, the Dubai/Oman benchmark operated by the Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME) and traded on CME’s electronic platform.

Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council last week approved the launch of a new pricing mechanism for Murban crude as part of ADNOC’s broader transformation strategy. It authorised the state energy firm to remove destination restrictions on Murban sales.

ADNOC plans to implement new Murban forward pricing between the second quarter and third quarter of 2020.

UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei said earlier on Tuesday that he saw no conflict between his country’s compliance with OPEC output cuts and plans to list Murban.

He said the UAE remained committed to cuts agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, plus allies led by Russia. These countries have since January implemented a deal to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) which lasts until March 2020, in an attempt to boost prices.

“I don’t think there is a conflict in floating Murban with the fact that UAE is going to comply with whatever we agree to with OPEC ... I am not worried about that,” Mazrouei told reporters.

Murban light crude output is around 1.6-1.7 million barrels per day. The UAE has traditionally sold oil directly to end-users, mainly in Asia, based on retroactive pricing rather than the forward pricing used by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.

The UAE, the third-largest OPEC producer behind Saudi Arabia and Iraq, pumps around 3 million bpd, produced mostly by ADNOC.

Reporting by Rania El Gamal, Ron Bousso, and Stanley Carvalho; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Evans