October 5, 2018 / 7:34 PM / 16 days ago

Saudi crude exports to U.S. fall in September after summer surge

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s crude exports to the United States fell sharply in September as U.S. oil refiners began seasonal maintenance that has allowed crude inventories to rise, data from Refinitiv Eikon and shipping intelligence firm Kpler show.

A slowdown in Saudi shipments marks a return to lower levels of crude exports into the U.S., where the Kingdom has sent fewer barrels since mid-2017, while focusing on Asian buyers.

“We’re coming up in September and October on some pretty substantial crude (refinery) shutdowns,” one trader said. “What (processors) don’t want is to have their tanks chock-a-block when they’re in shutdown.”

U.S. refineries had an estimated 1.42 million barrels per day (bpd) of capacity offline this week, up from 322,000 bpd a month ago, according to data provider IIR Energy. U.S. crude stocks rose by 8 million barrels last week to 404 million barrels, the U.S. Department of Energy said this week.

Twenty-five tankers carrying Saudi crude arrived in the U.S. last month with the most oil since March 2017, but vessels departing the Kingdom for the U.S. Gulf and West Coasts plunged to 12 in September, down from 20 in August and 30 in July, Refinitiv Eikon data show.

Saudi crude departures to the United States carried 781,120 bpd in September, the lowest level since May. That figure was down from 946,290 bpd in August and 1.2 million bpd in July, which was the highest level since October 2015, according to Refinitiv Eikon.

It takes about a month for Saudi crude to reach the U.S. West Coast, and around six weeks to two months to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast.

September departures from the Kingdom to the United States fell to 483,000 bpd, down from 977,000 bpd in August and 1.13 million bpd in July, Kpler data showed.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia last month sent more crude to China and Singapore, a sign of rising Asian demand as Iranian purchases fall. Saudi shipments to Singapore surged to the highest level since May 2016 in September at about 289,000 bpd, up from 109,000 bpd in August.

Saudi departures to China rose to 1.1 million bpd in September, up from 935,000 bpd the month before, Refinitiv data show.

Reporting by Collin Eaton

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