LAUNCESTON, Australia (Reuters) - - One of the dominant themes in Asia’s oil products markets is the rise of Chinese fuel exports, so much so that the decline in shipments from India barely gets mentioned.
India has in recent years been a fairly major player in Asia’s market for refined products, given the presence of plants designed to take advantage of the country’s location between producers in the Middle East and consumers in the rest of Asia.
India’s Reliance Industries, the owner of the world’s biggest refining complex, operates the 1.2 million-barrels-per-day (bpd) Jamnagar refining complex, while Essar Oil has a 400,000-bpd plant at Vadinar, both of which are focused on supplying overseas markets.
But changing dynamics of the local fuel market mean selling fuel at home has become as profitable as shipping it out.
India has largely deregulated its fuel market, ending the subsidies on gasoline and diesel that made it difficult for private refiners like Reliance and Essar to compete with state-owned companies, which were often forced to run at losses.
A robust rise in domestic demand, versus a slower increase in the rest of Asia, also means a growing market in which to participate.
Domestic sales of all oil products in India were at 15.84 million tonnes in December, equivalent to about 4.09 million bpd, and up 8.2 percent from the same month a year earlier, according to calculations based on official data.
India’s fuel demand is about 500,000 bpd higher now that it was two years ago, has doubled in the past 16 years and shows little sign of slowing down, given the rapid expansion of the middle class in the world’s second-most populous nation.
The move away from fuel exports toward domestic sales can be clearly seen in the official figures.
In the second half of 2015, exports of all oil products were at 30.96 million tonnes, or about 1.35 million bpd, versus 1.49 million bpd shipped out in the second half of 2014.
Diesel is still the major fuel export from India, and in the last six months of 2015, exports were about 515,000 bpd, around 8.5 percent, or 48,000 bpd, lower than a year ago.
The loss of about 140,000 bpd in exports of refined products from India in the second half of 2015 does not sound like enough to make a huge difference in Asia’s oil product markets.
This is especially the case given the rapid rise in refined fuel exports from China and new refineries in the Middle East.
China’s annual oil product exports rose 22 percent in 2015 to the equivalent of about 792,000 bpd, with diesel shipments jumping 77.7 percent, or 65,000 bpd, to about 147,000 bpd.
In other words, the decrease in India’s diesel exports isn’t quite as large as the increase in China’s.
Where the diesel margins head in 2016 may end up being a factor of the how fast Indian exports drop and how quickly those from China ramp up.
It does seem clear that the trends are firmly established for now, and longer term it’s likely that India may become a net importer of fuel, as domestic demand growth outstrips refinery construction.
The premium of gasoil, or diesel, traded in Singapore over a barrel of Dubai crude oil was $8.94 a barrel on Feb. 5, down 20.6 percent since the start of the year, and just over half of the 2015 peak of $17.67 hit in February of that year.
(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters)
Editing by Himani Sarkar