July 14, 2017 / 7:24 AM / 8 days ago

Cheaper options knock Gulf's share of Indian June oil imports to 19-month low

FILE PHOTO: A worker walks atop a tanker wagon to check the freight level at an oil terminal on the outskirts of Kolkata, India November 27, 2013.Rupak De Chowdhuri/File Photo

NEW DELHI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - India's reliance on Middle East oil imports shrunk in June to the smallest since October 2015 as the world's third-biggest importer tapped other sources amid OPEC supply cuts, ship tracking data from industry sources and data available on Thomson Reuters Eikon showed.

India's imports of Middle Eastern crude oil shrunk in June to the smallest since October 2015 as the world's third-biggest importer tapped other sources amid OPEC supply cuts, ship tracking data available with Reuters showed.

Middle East imports fell 7.6 percent in June from the previous month, partly driven by declines from Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia as the production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) made more of a dent in supply.

The cuts also drove up Middle East crude prices, prompting price-sensitive Indian buyers to seek substitutes from Russia and Latin America as the world remains awash with oil.

Gulf crude accounted for about 58.5 percent of India's imports compared with about 66 percent in May, while the share of oil from Latin America, Africa, and Central Asia, including Russia, rose, according to ship tracking data obtained from sources and data compiled by Thomson Reuters Oil Research & Forecasts.

"The choices have increased and crude is available at competitive prices," said M. K. Surana, chairman of oil refiner Hindustan Petroleum Corp.

"There are high supplies of low-sulphur crude because Nigeria is exempted" from the OPEC cuts, he said.

Even as OPEC and some non-OPEC producers cut output to shore up prices, global oil output in June is 1.2 million barrels per day above a year ago, the International Energy Agency said on Thursday in its latest monthly report.

The weight of supplies has forced sellers to cut prices allowing Indian refiners to snap up cargoes in the spot market.

"Pricing pressure is playing a role, whoever has crude they want to dispose it as quickly as possible," said A.K. Sharma, head of finance at Indian Oil Corp.

The refiner last week bought the country's first crude cargo from the United States and increased imports of Russian Urals crude this year.

Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd could buy U.S. light crude in a tender on Friday as they are priced competitively against African oil, the company's head of refineries Ramachandran said.

HPCL is evaluating U.S. crude for its refineries, Surana said.

West Texas Intermediate oil prices are depressed relative to Middle East benchmark Dubai because of rising U.S. shale oil production and as the OPEC cuts have reduced the amount of Middle East medium, sour crude. This has made it feasible for India to buy heavier U.S. crude to replace Middle East supplies such as Iraq's Basra Light, IOC's Sharma said.

He added that a discount of at least $2 a barrel on American oil to Dubai crude is 'ideal' to cover freight costs currently.

Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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