Oil Market Report: 15 April 2015

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Highlights

  • Oil futures prices eased in March, pressured by sharply higher supplies from Middle East OPEC producers and a relentless build in US crude stocks as refiners in Europe and Asia prepared for maintenance. At the time of writing, ICE Brent was trading at roughly $58.25/bbl - some 50% below last June's peak. NYMEX WTI was around $52.35/bbl.
  • The forecast of global oil demand for 2015 has been raised by 90 kb/d to 93.6 mb/d, a gain of 1.1 mb/d on the year. The notable acceleration on 2014's 0.7 mb/d growth follows cold temperatures in 1Q15 and a steadily improving global economic backdrop.
  • Global supply rose by an estimated 1 mb/d month-on-month in March, to 95.2 mb/d, as OPEC production recorded its highest monthly increase in nearly four years. Annual gains of a whopping 3.5 mb/d were split between OPEC and non-OPEC production.
  • OPEC crude oil output soared by 890 kb/d in March, to 31.02 mb/d, on sharply higher Saudi Arabian, Iraqi and Libyan supplies. The 'call on OPEC crude and stock change' was revised marginally higher for 2H15, to 30.35 mb/d, above the group's official production ceiling, but left unchanged for 2015 versus last month's Report, at 29.5 mb/d.
  • OECD industry stocks slipped by 1.7 mb in February, despite a massive 36.4 mb build in crude oil stocks. Preliminary data show OECD inventories rising counter-seasonally in March, by 29.2 mb, as US crude holdings extended recent builds and refined products defied seasonal trends.
  • Global refinery crude demand is expected to fall seasonally to 77.3 mb/d in 2Q15, from 78 mb/d in 1Q15. While Atlantic Basin refiners mostly completed turnarounds in 1Q15, Asian refinery maintenance is set to ramp up sharply in 2Q15, with up to 2.5 mb/d of distillation capacity offline at its peak in May.

The plot thickens

Months into the process of market rebalancing from the oil price collapse, one might be hoping for more clarity on supply and demand impacts. Yet, in some ways, the outlook is only getting murkier. That's in part because the backdrop against which the adjustment is playing out is constantly changing. The recent framework agreement between Iran and the P5+1 is a case in point. One of the many questions hanging over the market today is, how quickly could Iran be expected to ramp up output and exports if the agreement were to be made permanent?

Given deep changes in supply and demand in recent years, the way lower prices impact the market is also different from previous price corrections. That too is causing uncertainties, and not just about the response of unconventional North American supply to lower prices. The demand response has taken the market by surprise. Unexpected pockets of demand strength have emerged. Should those be seen as a sign that the demand response to lower prices will prove more robust than expected, or rather as a temporary aberration that will lead back to renewed weakness later on?

Unexpected demand strength in crude and product markets has boosted refining margins in some of the very markets where demand had seemed to be the weakest. European product demand, long in secular decline, swung back to growth in some markets in early 2015, and the region's refining sector has found renewed vigour amid weaker-than-expected runs elsewhere. Previously tepid Indian demand has strengthened, as lower oil prices appear to offer further support to an already improving economic outlook. US transport fuel demand has surged in the last few months. Not all readings are positive, however. Some preliminary bullish data, such as US demand estimates for January, have been revised downwards. Statistics on global oil demand remain extremely patchy in any event, with few measurements of non-OECD demand so far this year.

Not all of the apparent pockets of demand strength may be sustainable. At least some product buying has been meeting storage demand. In China, in particular, product stocks have surged in early 2015, while implied crude builds have also remained strong. European product cover is rising, bucking seasonal trends, on high refinery output. High OECD demand for middle distillates and LPG in early 2015 was largely driven by cold weather, a temporary factor if there ever was one. High deliveries might also reflect in part price-opportunistic product buying - in effect borrowed demand, leading to weaker growth later on. In several large producer countries, such as Brazil and Nigeria, demand is reeling from the effects of lower oil revenues and other factors. Meanwhile, seasonal refinery maintenance in Asia is about to remove one of the crude market's biggest props. 

On the supply front, considerable uncertainty remains about the ultimate outcome of the talks between Tehran and world powers and the timing of a potential lifting of sanctions. But an increase in Iranian exports has become a real possibility. As noted in this Report, while it may take some time for Iran to expand its production capacity, ramping up flows from already developed fields could be faster. Even quicker would be a hike in exports from oil in floating storage, of which there is reportedly enough to sustain shipments of some 180 kb/d for six months.

Recent developments thus may call into question past expectations that supply and demand responses would tighten the market from mid-year on. Stronger-than-expected 1Q15 demand might signal a faster recovery - as would a faster-than-expected decline in North American unconventional supply - but might just as likely point to a slower one if pockets of demand strength prove short-lived and lead to weaker deliveries later on. Advances in talks on Tehran's nuclear program not only call into question past working assumptions on future Iranian output, but may already have encouraged other producers to hike supply and stake out market share ahead of Iran's potential return. All in all, that suggests the market rebalancing may still be in its early stage.

Demand

Summary

  • The forecast of global oil demand for 2015 has been raised by 90 kb/d to 93.6 mb/d, a gain of 1.1 mb/d on the year and a notable acceleration on 2014's 0.7 mb/d growth, as the global economy slowly gains momentum.
  • Colder-than-year-earlier temperatures compounded the impact of economic growth in 1Q15, accounting for part of the upward revision to last month's demand forecast. Since bottoming out at a five-year low of 270 kb/d year-on-year (y-o-y) in 2Q14, global growth has steadily built, rising to a fresh one-and-a-half year peak of +1.3 mb/d y-o-y in 1Q15. Most OECD economies, with the notable exception of Japan and Scandinavia, saw lower temperatures than last year in January and February, triggering additional space heating demand.
  • Exceptionally strong preliminary Indian demand data for February contributed heavily towards the upwardly revised Indian demand estimate for 2015 as a whole. Although record February growth does not appear to be sustainable, stronger gains have nevertheless taken hold since October 2014. India now looks set to rank amongst the fastest growing large economies in 2015, lifting the forecast of Indian oil demand growth to nearly 5% for the year.
  • Russian demand was stronger than expected in early 2015, as domestic oil use rose by 20 kb/d y-o-y in 1Q15 despite persistent domestic economic weaknesses. The surprisingly resilient January-February delivery data led to an upward revision of 135 kb/d in 1Q15, although overall contractions remain projected for the year as a whole.
  • Weaker demand conditions remain entrenched in many other non-OECD countries, such as Iraq, Argentina, Nigeria and Brazil, as curbed oil-export revenues and/or creaking macroeconomic performances dent demand.
  • The OECD oil demand forecast for 2015 remains essentially flat, despite the recent upgrades, as improvements in the economic backdrop and colder 1Q15 weather roughly balance the persistent downside influences attributable to efficiency gains and product switching.

Global Overview

Colder than-year-earlier temperatures in many large consuming countries, over January and February, provided additional support for a slow recovery in global oil demand growth. Having bottomed out at a five-year low of 270 kb/d y-o-y in 2Q14, global oil demand growth has since steadily accelerated. Demand growth initially rose to around 480 kb/d y-o-y in 3Q14, before rising further to 820 kb/d y-o-y in 4Q14, and reaching a one-and-a-half-year high of 1.3 mb/d y-o-y in 1Q15. Although growth had been forecast to gain momentum in 1Q15, progress nevertheless exceeded expectations, garnering additional support from colder winter weather conditions. Lower temperatures were seen across most major OECD economies in both January and February, with the notable exceptions of Japan and the Scandinavian economies. Particularly strong Asian demand emerged in 1Q15, with deliveries rising by 110 kb/d y-o-y in Korea, 200 kb/d in India and 250 kb/d in China. The latest data from Russia also paint a surprisingly resilient picture of domestic demand, with an essentially flat 1Q15 y-o-y demand trend holding despite Russian economic softness. Overall, compared to last month's Report, approximately 310 kb/d of additional oil product demand has been added to the 1Q15 global demand estimate, to a revised 93.0 mb/d.

Macroeconomic momentum is largely following the accelerating trend that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) outlined in January, i.e. a global economic forecast of approximately 3.5% growth for 2015, roughly 0.2 percentage points up on 2014. This upturn supports additional oil demand growth, particularly when post-recessionary bounces, such as those seen in Japan and much of Europe, are taken into consideration. JPMorgan's Global Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) provides additional clarity on monthly developments regarding the global economy, with their global PMI rising to a five-month high of 53.9 in February. That index has been above its key 50-threshold, indicating 'optimism' for 29 consecutive months through February, and now even shows modest growth of 1.2% in the euro area, a regional laggard. Russia is the main area of contraction according to JPMorgan's data, with the PMI for Russia in February showing its sharpest pace of decline since May 2009.

Despite those improvements in the macroeconomic outlook, looming challenges remain, most notably what will happen when exceptionally loose global financial conditions tighten. The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise historically low interest rates in 2015. Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF, pointed out in March "the risk of financial market and capital flow volatility, along with sudden increases in interest rate spreads, remains a real possibility as US interest rates begin to rise". Ms Lagarde highlighted the danger "that vulnerabilities that build up during a period of very accommodative monetary policy can unwind suddenly when such policy is reversed, creating substantial market volatility" and alluded to events such as the taper-tantrum of mid-2013 (when many markets plummeted on expectations that the US Federal Reserve would slowdown/'taper' its bond purchasing programme) returning once more in 2015. A reduction from the IMF's January projection of a 0.2 percentage point acceleration in global economic growth would in turn dampen demand forecasts. A somewhat conservative outlook on global oil demand growth is thus maintained for 2015, at +1.1 mb/d, at least until the macroeconomic clouds clear.

Overall, the modest forecast acceleration in global growth will take projected demand up to around 93.6 mb/d in 2015, as already alluded to equivalent to +1.1 mb/d growth and significantly above the five-year growth-low of 660 kb/d in 2014. The absolute 1Q15 estimate has been raised by 310 kb/d compared to last month's Report, with the gains led by Russia (+135 kb/d), India (+110 kb/d), Korea (+55 kb/d), Germany (+40 kb/d), Spain (+40 kb/d) and France (+25 kb/d). Upward adjustments for January were led by Russia (+180 kb/d), Germany (+120 kb/d), Spain (+75 kb/d), China (+65 kb/d) and Turkey (+60 kb/d), more than offsetting curtailments in Japan (-55 kb/d), Chinese Taipei (-55 kb/d), Iraq (-45 kb/d) and India (-40 kb/d). For February, based on preliminary statistics, upward adjustments were led by India (+210 kb/d), Russia  (+130 kb/d), Korea (+85 kb/d), Japan (+50 kb/d) and France (+45 kb/d), offsetting curtailments in China  (-225 kb/d), Brazil (-125 kb/d) and Mexico (-85 kb/d).

OECD

Preliminary data show that OECD demand grew y-o-y in February for the third consecutive month. This is the first three-month period of consistent OECD oil demand growth in four years. Gasoil/diesel demand led the gains, largely a consequence of colder-than-year-earlier weather conditions in most large OECD consumers except Japan and Scandinavia, but also gaining traction on tentatively building macroeconomic momentum. Relatively weak petrochemical demand in Japan, the Netherlands, France and Belgium continue to keep OECD naphtha deliveries on the declining trend seen since June 2014. The forecast for 2015 as a whole is for essentially flat OECD demand, at approximately 45.7 mb/d, as improvements in the economy and colder 1Q15 weather roughly balance the downside effects of efficiency gains and product switching.





Americas

More supportive macroeconomic conditions and lower US retail product prices continue to stimulate absolute y-o-y demand growth across the OECD Americas, but momentum may be slowing. Preliminary data suggest a gain of 1.0% y-o-y in February to 24.4 mb/d, led by the transport sector. The US is providing the majority of this upside momentum, but even there, key components of previously strongly rising demand have started to ease. Monthly delivery data for January, for example, show much lower LPG deliveries than previously foreseen. Such revisions have curbed the total US demand estimate to 19.3 mb/d in January, a gain of 1.6% on the year earlier (or + 0.3 mb/d), down compared to December's near 3% y-o-y gain.



Gasoline makes up the bulk of the January gains in US demand. US gasoline demand rose by 6.2% y-o-y in January, to 8.7 mb/d, garnering support from reports of heavy road use and heady car sales, particularly those of less fuel-efficient four-wheel drive vehicles. The US Department of Transport's Federal Highway Commission reported a 4.9% y-o-y gain in US vehicle miles travelled in January, to 11.1 billion vehicle miles, with the most notable upside reserved for the US North-Central (+7.4% y-o-y) and South-Atlantic regions (+5.8%).



US gasoline demand continued to grow in February and March, according to weekly statistics from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), although momentum eased to a four-month low by March, as depicted in the less buoyant consumer and business confidence measures. The University of Michigan's consumer confidence index, for example, fell to a four-month low in March, while the Institute for Supply Management's Manufacturing PMI fell to a near two-year low citing the strength of the US dollar, lower oil prices, escalating healthcare costs and residual effects from the harsh winter. Overall in 2015, the US demand trend is likely to be one of modest 1.1% growth, taking average deliveries up to around 19.2 mb/d for the year as a whole, a seven-year high.

Based on the latest official data, the Canadian demand estimate for January has been revised up by 50 kb/d compared to last month's Report, with LPG and naphtha leading the increase. Canadian LPG demand (including ethane) rose to 475 kb/d in January, its highest level in nearly a year, on reports of strong petrochemical demand and additional propane use from the heating sector. Naphtha demand rose by 12.2% y-o-y in January to 95 kb/d. Despite the January upgrade, the overall y-o-y demand trend remains essentially flat and is broadly expected to remain so through the year as a whole.



Persistent declines in residual fuel oil use kept Mexico overall on a heavily falling demand trend, as total February deliveries of 1.9 mb/d were 85 kb/d (or 4.2%) below the year earlier, marking the fifth consecutive month of lower y-o-y demand. Residual fuel oil demand, at 70 kb/d, was roughly 40 kb/d (or 36.9%) below year-earlier levels, as power-sector demand contracted sharply. Statistics from the Secretaria de Energia confirmed this trend, which correspond with sharp gains in natural gas use in the power sector (+10.7% y-o-y). Sharp declines in LPG, naphtha, gasoil and 'other product' demand also played a role undermining the overall Mexican oil demand trend, amid weakening consumer and business confidence. The Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia's consumer confidence indicator fell to a six-month low, of 90.3 in February, well below the key 100 net-confidence threshold, while its business confidence measure also eased in February. Based on those weaker-than-expected data, the forecast for the year has been curtailed and now shows a 35 kb/d (1.7%) decline in 2015, to an average of 1.9 mb/d.


Europe

The latest European demand data confirm the modestly rising pattern of recent months, noted in recent issues of this Report. Having fallen by 3.5% y-o-y in 2Q14, European demand growth came in at -1.1% in 3Q14, -0.6% y-o-y in 4Q14, before reversing back into rising territory in 1Q15, up by 2.6% y-o-y. This change marks the first quarter of y-o-y growth in nearly one-and-a-half years. Notably stronger gasoil/diesel and LPG demand led the reversal. Improving macroeconomic conditions supported both products, while colder-than-year-earlier weather conditions (with the exception of Scandinavia) also stimulated additional European gasoil demand.



Of the big European economies, this month's Report includes notable upgrades to many of the January demand estimates. Germany (+120 kb/d), Spain (+75 kb/d), Turkey (+60 kb/d), Belgium (+55 kb/d), the Netherlands (+50 kb/d) and Poland (+30 kb/d) all saw significant upside revisions to their January demand estimates. Preliminary data for February show fewer such revisions, with an upwardly revised French (+45 kb/d) demand estimate marginally offsetting lower numbers for Germany (-15 kb/d).



Belgian demand posted a sixth consecutive month of y-o-y growth in January, led by strong gains in LPG and gasoil. Strengthening macroeconomic conditions in many countries, most notably Germany, supported gasoil demand, as German deliveries in January jumped by 145 kb/d y-o-y, with colder-than-year-earlier weather providing an additional stimulus. German diesel prices in January (including taxes) were 15% below the year-earlier, which may have raised consumer demand. Spain also saw sharply higher gasoil deliveries (+9.0% y-o-y) in January, lifting total Spanish demand by 6.9% that month. France, meanwhile, saw a third consecutive month of y-o-y gains as gasoil deliveries returned to growth on the back of cold January-February weather.


Asia Oceania

The latest delivery data for OECD Asia Oceania remains a mixed bag, with strong gains in Korea and New Zealand offsetting absolute declines in Japan. Even in Japan, however, the latest demand data shows a relative easing in the pace of y-o-y demand declines, with oil product demand falling by a relatively shallower 5.4% y-o-y in February, compared to previous six-month trend of -7.3% y-o-y. Gains in Japanese transport sector demand, in February, shaved some of the more extreme downside momentum out of the overall pace of the Japanese demand decline, as still large contractions were seen from the power and petrochemical sectors. 



At an estimated 2.5 mb/d in February, Korean demand is nearly 160 kb/d (or 6.6%) higher than last year. Particularly strong gains were seen in transport fuels and petrochemical feedstocks, with gasoil deliveries up by 55 kb/d (or 13.8%) y-o-y, jet/kerosene demand by 45 kb/d (or 24%) and naphtha deliveries by 25 kb/d (or 2.2%). Despite the recent demand strength the forecast growth rate for the year as a whole remains at a still relatively flat +1.0%, to 2.4 mb/d, as business confidence indicators point towards a softening in macroeconomic activity over the remainder of the year. For example, the Bank of Korea's Business Survey Index stood at just 77 in March, well below the 100-threshold that is traditionally used to signify the switch between an 'improving' and 'deteriorating' outlook, while Markit's Manufacturing PMI fell back into 'contractionary' territory in March after a two-month hiatus.


Non-OECD

Early indicators of 1Q15 demand suggest that the non-OECD remains on a near +2% y-o-y growth trajectory. Sharp divergences exist across non-OECD nations, however, with strong gains in the likes of India and Saudi Arabia, while weak and/or falling demand growth exist in many other countries, such as Iraq, Argentina, Russia, Nigeria and Brazil.



China

Preliminary estimates of Chinese oil product demand for February have been curtailed on reports of heightened product stock-builds, which equate to a negative influence on IEA apparent demand calculations. China Oil, Gas and Petrochemicals estimate a hefty product stock-build of roughly 470 kb/d, February over January, with particularly sharp gains in gasoil/diesel stocks, hence contributing heavily towards February's forecast decline of over 4% y-o-y in Chinese gasoil/diesel demand, to 2.9 mb/d. A total Chinese demand estimate of 10.2 mb/d is made for February, little changed on the year earlier. We note that the accuracy of both January and February estimates are clouded by the timing of the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday. This year, the New Year holiday fell entirely in February, whereas in 2014 it split between late-January and early-February.





Net product import numbers for February, another key input into IEA apparent demand calculations for China, show a near one-quarter increase on the year earlier, according to General Administration of Customs data. The addition of these extra import flows fail to lift significantly the Chinese apparent demand estimate, instead likely contributing to rising product stocks. Looking at overall Chinese oil demand it is difficult to see a substantial uptick until the currently ailing industrial backdrop clears. Regarding gasoil/diesel only a modest uptick in demand is foreseen for the year as a whole, +0.6% to 3.4 mb/d, as the anemic underlying industrial data remain a constraint. Such weak gasoil demand is forecast to curb overall Chinese demand growth to around 280 kb/d (or 2.7%) in 2015, to 10.7 mb/d, offsetting relatively strong gains in gasoline, LPG and jet/kerosene. Supporting longer-term transport fuel demand projections, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reported a near 9% y-o-y gain in new vehicle sales over the first two months of 2015.

Other Non-OECD

Heightened road transport fuel demand took total Indian oil product deliveries up to an all-time high of 4.3 mb/d in February, with particularly strong gains seen in gasoline and diesel demand, respectively higher by 18.2% and 7.4% y-o-y. Such robust gains took the overall Indian growth rate up to its highest level since mid-2012. Overall in 2015, an average gain of around 5% is forecast supported by near 7% GDP growth projections and the likelihood of only very modest further cuts in energy price subsidies, thus easing one of the key issues that dampened 2014 demand growth - lower subsidies. The latest economic data, from the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation generally support the strengthening backdrop to Indian oil demand, with GDP up 7.5% y-o-y in 4Q14 and industrial output 2.6% y-o-y higher in January.





The latest Russian oil demand estimate shows stronger-than-anticipated 1Q15 deliveries of 3.5 mb/d, up by 20 kb/d on the year and 135 kb/d above our prior forecast. Absolute gains in residual fuel oil and 'other product' demand led the upside, alongside tentative gain in the transport sector. Business confidence indicators for February showed a surprise bounce, potentially contributing towards February's 40 kb/d y-o-y gain. Despite such 1Q15 resilience, however, the falling Russian oil demand forecast for 2015 as a whole very much remains in place, -4.3% to 3.5 mb/d. Not only does the overall macroeconomic backdrop remain a contracting one but also forward-looking industrial sentiment indicators, such as HSBC/Markit's Manufacturing PMI, remain 'pessimistic'. Taking into account March data, February's Manufacturing PMI 'bounce' appears to have been only a temporary reprieve.

Reports of stuttering Nigerian economic activity weigh on forecasts for oil deliveries across the years as a whole. Delayed elections, from February until late-March, a consequence of security concerns in the northeast where Boko Haram militants have displaced approximately 1.5 million people, somewhat choked macroeconomic momentum, alongside weakening exchange rates and lower oil prices, and in-turn oil demand. The head of Nigeria's National Bureau of Statistics, Yemi Kale, warned of likely further downside revisions of one basis point to the already downwardly revised forecast of Nigerian economic growth of 5.5%, citing particular concerns related to exchange rates and oil prices. Given this weaker macroeconomic backdrop, the 2015 Nigerian demand forecast has been curtailed to a modest near 4% growth projection. Despite such concerns, the upside risks to the forecast have grown on the electoral landslide victory of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, as a potential easing in political tensions could potentially stimulate additional economic activity.



Recent cracker closures continue to dampen naphtha demand estimates in Chinese Taipei, as approximately 385 kb/d were delivered in January, 14.4% down on the year earlier. Reduced petrochemical demand played a key role in the overall -6.0% y-o-y demand trend in January to 980 kb/d. For the year as whole, total deliveries are forecast to average roughly 1.0 mb/d, 1.7% up on the year earlier, as momentum builds once again supported by recuperating economic growth and a resumption of previously closed petrochemical facilities.



The latest Middle Eastern demand data has, at least initially, confirmed expectations, cited in previous editions of this Report, that soft demand conditions would predominate through the early stages of 2015. Iran, for example, saw an essentially flat y-o-y January trend, while declines were seen in crisis-hit Iraq. Political pressure to maintain fuel subsidies in Iraq could limit the potential for further declines. Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the Iraqi oil minister, stated that "although the IMF persists in seeking a removal of government subsidies on energy, we decided to adhere to the policy and keep the prices the way they are now," i.e. at 450 Dinar per litre ($1.8/gallon) in Baghdad. For countries without substantial cash reserves, with notable exceptions likes Saudi Arabia, persistent sub-$60 oil prices are quashing domestic revenues from oil-exports and the potential government spend, and hence accordingly their demand trends are at least showing some early signs of suffering.



A general deterioration in the Brazilian domestic economy recently has curbed the previously strongly growing oil demand trend. Exceptionally weak gasoline demand led February's climb-down, as a having posted y-o-y growth in the previous 42-months, February saw an absolute y-o-y decline. Gasoil/diesel demand also creaked, although absolute y-o-y declines in Brazilian gasoil demand are a less unusual occurrence, with declines previously seen in four of the ten months prior to February's reduction. Having previously bucked the otherwise declining Brazilian economic data flow, the Confederacao Nacional da Industria's consumer confidence index flattened in February, to an exactly neutral 100 and well down on recent levels of 'optimism' such as January's 104.2 reading or October 2014's recent high of 112. Having risen by approximately 3.9% in 2014, a more subdued +2.0% demand trend is foreseen for 2015, taking average deliveries up to around 3.2 mb/d for the year as a whole.


Supply

Summary

  • OPEC supply soared to 31.02 mb/d in March - up 890 kb/d on February - as top exporter Saudi Arabia ramped up output towards record rates while Iraq and Libya rebounded strongly. The month-on-month (m-o-m) supply increase was the biggest since June 2011. March marked the eleventh consecutive month with production running above OPEC's 30 mb/d supply target.
  • Early indications suggest that OPEC's robust March production level, up nearly 1.5 mb/d on the year before, may be sustained, if not rise further, in April. The 'call on OPEC crude and stock change' for 2015 was steady at 29.5 mb/d versus last month's Report. The 2H15 'call' was revised a touch higher to 30.35 mb/d, which is above the group's official production ceiling.
  • Global supply rose by an estimated 1 mb/d month-on-month (m-o-m) in March, to 95.2 mb/d, on increasing OPEC production, which saw the highest monthly increase in nearly four years. Annual gains of a whopping 3.5 mb/d were split between OPEC and non-OPEC production.
  • Non-OPEC oil production is estimated to have risen by about 100 kb/d to 57.7 mb/d in March, led by the US, with Russia also contributing. Year-on-year (y-o-y), non-OPEC supply is estimated to have risen by about 1.8 mb/d.
  • The forecast of North American production for 2H15 has been adjusted downwards by about 160 kb/d compared with last month's Report on a slightly more negative outlook for the US and Canada. The downward revisions reflect a steeper slowdown in US LTO growth leading to declines later in the forecast period, along with a more negative outlook for non-oil sands output in Canada.


All world oil supply data for March discussed in this report are IEA estimates. Estimates for OPEC countries, Alaska, Mexico and Russia are supported by preliminary March supply data.

Note: Random events present downside risk to the non-OPEC production forecast contained in this report. These events can include accidents, unplanned or unannounced maintenance, technical problems, labour strikes, political unrest, guerrilla activity, wars and weather-related supply losses. Specific allowance has been made in the forecast for scheduled maintenance in all regions and for typical seasonal supply outages (including hurricane-related stoppages) in North America. In addition, from May 2011, a nationally allocated (but not field-specific) reliability adjustment has also been applied for the non-OPEC forecast to reflect a historical tendency for unexpected events to reduce actual supply compared with the initial forecast. This totals approximately -200 kb/d to -400 kb/d for non-OPEC as a whole.

OPEC crude oil supply

OPEC crude oil output surged 890 kb/d to 31.02 mb/d in March - nearly a two-year high - after Saudi Arabia pushed output towards record levels while Iraq and Libya posted strong supply recoveries. Early soundings suggest OPEC's lofty March production level - nearly 1.5 mb/d up on the previous year - may hold, if not increase, in April. Indeed, OPEC's core Gulf producers - led by Saudi Arabia - appear to be sticking with their defence of market share ahead of a scheduled 5 June OPEC meeting.

At an average 10.1 mb/d, Riyadh's supply climbed by around 390 kb/d in March to reach the highest rate since September 2013. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said pumping would continue at around 10 mb/d. Exports from Iraq reached a record rate of nearly 3 mb/d in March, with production rising close to the robust levels seen in December. Libya continued to defy the odds, with output climbing despite the ongoing chaos in the North African producer. At the time of writing, production had risen to around 600 kb/d- already a significant improvement on average March output of 480 kb/d.

The 2015 'call on OPEC crude and stock change' was unchanged from last month's Report at 29.5 mb/d. OPEC's 'effective' spare capacity was estimated at 2.47 mb/d in March versus 2.9 mb/d in February. Saudi Arabia accounted for 90% of the surplus.



Crude oil supply from Saudi Arabia leapt by 390 kb/d to 10.1 mb/d in March, suggesting Riyadh is intent on maintaining its policy to preserve its market share. Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said Saudi oil fields reached a high of 10.3 mb/d in March and that production would continue at around 10 mb/d. Preliminary tanker tracking data showed crude exports rising to roughly 7.4 mb/d in March - a rise of around 600 kb/d on the previous month. Much of the increase was destined for Asia, where demand for Saudi crude has been stronger than anticipated, industry sources said. The Saudi oil minister said he expected oil prices to "improve in the near future". In early April, Saudi Aramco raised its monthly formula prices for crude oil being shipped to Asia for the second month in a row.

If confirmed, the March crude export levels are running slightly above average 2014 volumes of 7.1 mb/d, according to figures from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative (JODI). Apart from higher crude oil sales, Saudi domestic refinery runs are expected to have risen in March as Riyadh revved up the 400 kb/d Yasref refinery. Internal demand is also rising as domestic power plants begin to burn more crude with peak summer demand approaching.

The latest JODI figures showed Saudi crude exports in January jumped 540 kb/d versus December to 7.47 mb/d - the highest since February 2014. Exports of products sank to 800 kb/d from a record 1.05 mb/d in December. Overall Saudi oil exports, excluding condensates and NGLs, rose to 8.27 mb/d versus 7.98 mb/d in December.



Saudi Arabia guided OPEC's November decision to maintain the group's official 30 mb/d supply target, and Naimi made clear that Riyadh would not cut output on its own to rebalance the world oil market. "The Kingdom remains willing to participate in restoring market stability and improving prices in a reasonable and acceptable manner," he said in a speech on 7 April in Riyadh. "But this can only be with participation from major oil producing and exporting countries."



Crude oil production from Saudi Arabia's Gulf allies Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE was steady m-o-m. The UAE's state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (Adnoc) started to reduce its mainstay Murban crude exports to Asia by up to 5% in March in order to redirect more oil for use at its expanded Ruwais refinery. Adnoc is in the process of ramping up a 417 kb/d crude unit expansion at the plant.

Framework agreement opens door for potential Iran export increase

A 2 April framework agreement struck between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) could open the way for Tehran to raise output and increase its share in the world oil market. Substantially higher production is unlikely before next year, but Tehran could, in theory, raise exports out of floating storage before then. Iranian oil fields pumped 2.8 mb/d of crude in March - down 50 kb/d m-o-m - but are in theory capable of producing as much as 3.4 mb/d to 3.6 mb/d within months of sanctions being lifted. Negotiators are now working to meet a 30 June deadline for a final deal to curb Tehran's nuclear programme that includes the removal of US and European Union sanctions.

However, that time will only come after the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. But Tehran and Washington appear to differ over how swiftly - and to what extent - the measures will be suspended. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says all sanctions must be removed on the very day of any final agreement, while the United States insists the measures will be lifted gradually. US Secretary of State John Kerry has suggested it could take Tehran between four months and a year to become compliant.

Iran is seeking to raise oil exports swiftly after sanctions are lifted. Just days after Iran and the P5+1 struck their landmark nuclear pact, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh travelled to China with a high-ranking delegation for talks on oil sales and investment opportunities.

Rigorous financial measures enforced by the US and EU have cut exports of Iranian crude to around 1.1 mb/d from roughly 2.2 mb/d at the start of 2012. A nominal 1 mb/d cap was set on Tehran's crude exports under a November 2013 preliminary deal that partially eased sanctions, with buyers required to hold imports near levels at that time.

Heavy buying by China, however, pushed imports of Iranian crude to 1.27 m/bd in March - up 115 kb/d on February and the highest level since February 2014, according to preliminary figures that are subject to revision. Iran's top buyer took in 780 kb/d during March, up 250 kb/d on February and just shy of Beijing's record 800 kb/d purchase made in April 2014, the data indicate.

And Tehran reportedly is set to supply 50% more condensate - ultra light oil from Iran's South Pars gas project - to Chinese state trader Zhuhai Zhenrong under a renewed one-year contract. The deal to deliver 100 kb/d of condensate from August was reportedly clinched before the framework agreement. Iran's deliveries of condensate doubled in March to 190 kb/d, the average rate of shipments during 2014.



Responding to international pressure, India halted imports of Iranian crude for the first time in more than 10 years in March. India had ranked as Tehran's second biggest customer with average purchases of 280 kb/d in 2014. Turkey, which had held imports at roughly 100 kb/d, raised purchases to 155 kb/d - up 50 kb/d on February. And Syria imported its biggest monthly volume yet - 125 kb/d, up 90kb/d from February. After a five-month pause, the UAE returned to purchase 20 kb/d. Japan and Korea made slight cuts in deliveries during March, while Taiwan cut out imports altogether. Import volumes are based on data submitted by OECD countries, non-OECD statistics from customs agencies, tanker movements and news reports.

Iran is also reportedly holding around 30 mb of crude on tankers ready to be shipped - if and when allowed - into an already well-supplied market. And within months of sanctions being lifted, Iranian oil fields will probably be capable of ramping up to 3.4 mb/d to 3.6 mb/d. To help move its barrels more easily, the National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) may continue to offer attractive credit and pricing terms post-sanctions, as it has under sanctions, industry sources said.

Veteran technocrat Zanganeh, who ran the oil sector under former President Mohammed Khatami, has vowed to return Tehran to OPEC's number two slot after Saudi Arabia as soon as sanctions are removed. And NIOC has been preparing for that day since Zanganeh returned to the post of oil minister in 2013.

NIOC engineers and geologists spent much of last year ensuring that wells and processing units were up to scratch and pipeline systems tested. If anything, some of Iran's core oil fields such as Ahwaz, Marun and Gachsaran may have been revived under sanctions. Shutting down large volumes of oil may have allowed pressure to rise - leaving them capable of a swift increase of around 600 kb/d.

When NIOC regains full access to capital markets, it should be able to bring in more advanced technology for its own projects and gradually lift production capacity beyond 3.6 mb/d under its own steam. In due course, Iran will seek to lure hefty investment and cutting-edge technology from international oil companies. Billions of dollars worth of spending on its vast oil fields could enable Tehran to boost capacity to around 4 mb/d towards the end of the decade.

Crude output from Iraq, including the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), surged by 350 kb/d to 3.67 mb/d in March after weather cleared in the Gulf and allowed for steady loadings. Overall exports, including oil from the north shipped via the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, reached record rates just shy of 3 mb/d. Baghdad's 2015 budget targets exports of 3.3 mb/d.

Clearer weather in the Gulf allowed Iraq's exports of Basra Light to rise by 420 kb/d from February to reach 2.7 mb/d - just shy of December's record 2.76 mb/d. Exports fell sharply in January and February due mostly to weather-related disruptions in the Gulf. Some companies declined to load cargoes in January after the quality of Basra Light crude deteriorated due to heavier Iraqi crude from the oil fields of Missan province and from West Qurna-2.

Exports from the north, via the KRG's pipeline link to Turkey, have also been subject to disruptions due to reported low-level smuggling and technical issues on the Turkish side of the route. March shipments were 270 kb/d, down 35 kb/d on February. Iraq had planned to ship more than 450 kb/d of northern crude during March - a level that, if realised, would have been the highest since October 2011.



Iraq's state oil marketer SOMO meanwhile issued the first monthly formula price for its Basra Heavy crude for May, although the launch of the new grade from the south, with an API of below 24 degrees, may be delayed until June, say industry sources. As for the north, throughput along the pipeline to Turkey - from the North Oil Company and KRG - rose to around 500 kb/d after technical issues were fixed. An export deal agreed late last year calls for the KRG to provide 250 kb/d to SOMO to sell and allows for another 300 kb/d of federal oil from Kirkuk to flow through the KRG's pipeline system. In return, the central government is to release the KRG's 17% share of national revenue.

Iraq's federal government is meanwhile making some progress in its payments to international oil companies developing its giant southern oil fields. Foreign firms typically receive payment in crude that equates to the value of cash owed and industry sources say the payment cycle for April has improved.

Oil's 50% decline from June's peak above $115/bbl has forced Baghdad to renegotiate service contracts with international oil companies such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, China's CNPC and Russia's Lukoil. Baghdad has secured $3 billion from a bond issue to pay off its debts to the companies. It owes $9 billion to contractors for 2014 and is due to pay out around $18 billion to investors this year.

Oil companies at work in Nigeria are cautiously optimistic over the electoral landslide of Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler with oil sector experience. The swift concession of defeat by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan has eased political tension and lowered the risk of violence in the restive Niger Delta oil heartland. But the president-elect, a Muslim northerner, faces daunting challenges in the oil sector where crude production has declined steadily from a yearly average of 2.1 mb/d in 2012. The current low price environment is only compounding obstacles to production growth - such as oil theft and natural declines. And the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp (NNPC) is struggling to meet funding requirements with core upstream partners - Total, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Eni and Royal Dutch Shell - at work on high-cost offshore deepwater projects.



By March, output had sunk to 1.79 mb/d - off 40 kb/d from February - the lowest level since August 2009, when unrest in the Niger Delta suppressed production. The new production that is coming online is not sufficient to offset declines, industry sources said. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan brokered an amnesty deal with militants when he was vice president in 2009 that allowed production to rebound. It is unclear at this stage whether Buhari will revise or give up on the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which is intended to overhaul the energy sector.

Elsewhere in West Africa, Angola kept up its brisk pace in March with production nudging up to 1.8 mb/d - its highest since November 2012.

Libyan crude production recovered to 480 kb/d in March - up 190 kb/d on February - despite ongoing chaos and attacks by militants reportedly allied with Islamic State. By early April, output in the North African producer had risen to around 600 kb/d. Although a further improvement, that level is still some way below the 1 mb/d achieved last October and less than a third of the 1.6 mb/d produced before the 2011 civil war that unseated Muammar Gaddafi.

Production rose steadily throughout March after the Sarir oil field restarted and ramped up towards 185 kb/d. The core eastern field was shut in mid-February after saboteurs struck the pipeline linking Sarir to the port of Marsa el-Hariga.

Towards the end of March, the Tripoli-based government agreed to allow several fields to restart following UN-brokered peace talks in Brussels. Strategic oil fields and terminals that have halted operations due to the ongoing fight between the country's two rival governments - the so-called Libya Dawn administration in Tripoli and the officially recognised government that fled to the east - may also re-open shortly.

The recovery has allowed exports to world markets to climb to 500 kb/d, although Tripoli-based militants have threatened to retake oil fields after the rival eastern-based government of Abduallah al-Thinni announced plans to form a new national oil company. Thinni has authorised officials from the eastern unit of the National Oil Company (NOC) to route oil revenues to a new account, but - for now - major oil companies continue to do business with NOC in Tripoli.

Non-OPEC overview

Non-OPEC oil production is estimated to have risen by about 100 kb/d to 57.7 mb/d in March, led by higher output in the US, and to a lesser extent Russia. Non-OPEC output is expected to grow by about 630 kb/d y-o-y in 2015, a downward revision of 120 kb/d compared with last month's Report, on the back of a slightly more negative outlook for the US LTO production and Canadian non-oil sands output, and of the fallout from the worsening conflict in Yemen. According to our latest estimates, fighting in Yemen has halved production to about 60 kb/d in April, from an already-depressed level of roughly 120 kb/d. Recently launched Saudi air strikes, while not targeting  energy infrastructure directly, have led international oil companies active in the country, including Norway's DNO and France's Total, to practically halt operations and pull out expatriate staff (see Yemen deteriorates, production halved).

The downward revision to North American supply growth in this Report comes amid signs that US LTO production m-o-m growth will grind to a halt as early as May, with the 2H15 showing slight declines in LTO output. The continued drop in the number of oil rigs, which only appeared to have abated temporarily in late March, reductions in capital expenditures, and a credit crunch among LTO producers in the US point to challenging times ahead for LTO growth. The backlog of uncompleted wells, which need to be brought into production to offset the steep declines characteristic of LTO, are depressing the production outlook, although they could be brought online relatively quickly should an increase in price occur. The forecast of Canadian non-oil sands production has also been lowered due to falling drilling rates and an increasing backlog of uncompleted wells.

OECD

North America

US - March preliminary, Alaska actual, others estimated: US crude oil production is expected to maintain its upward momentum in 2015, with growth anticipated at roughly 550 kb/d y-o-y. Nevertheless, the forecast of US crude production for 2015 has been trimmed by roughly 50 kb/d from last month's Report, with the downward revisions backloaded in 2H15. That lower production figure reflects expectations that Bakken LTO production will start declining in May, sooner than previously projected, despite a potential 6.5% reduction in oil output tax that may be triggered in the next couple of months (the state's oil output taxes will fall to zero from the current 6.5% if the WTI price averages below $55.09/barrel for five consecutive months). Projections of supplies from other shale plays have also been revised downwards. 

Final January data published by the U.S. EIA show that US crude production fell by 135 kb/d in January on the month, with natural gas liquids (NGL) production posting a monthly decline of 140 kb/d compared with the previous month. The production declines, particularly for NGLs, were likely due to difficulties associated with freezing weather conditions. North Dakota's Bakken production also fell on the month, declining roughly 35 kb/d (or 3%). The January m-o-m drop on Bakken output is consistent with previous years' January declines, however, with both January 2013 and 2014 falling roughly 30 kb/d m-o-m due to weather-related operational problems. Meanwhile, Eagle Ford volumes continued to grow apace during the month, increasing more than 30 kb/d compared with December.

Overall, US production is expected to average 12.5 mb/d in 2015, an expected increase of roughly 710 kb/d compared with 2014. Approximately 550 kb/d of the annual growth is set to come from crude oil. However, lower oil prices and cuts in capex are starting to take their toll on: the decreases in drilling rates and backlog of uncompleted wells point to slower production growth than previously expected. The uncompleted wells will dampen growth prospects as rapid declines from wells already in production require drilling and completion of new wells in order to keep production on an upward trajectory. If an insufficient number of new wells are brought online to offset the steep declines, production growth will flatten out and decline over time. The advantage of drilled but uncompleted wells, however, is that they can be brought online relatively quickly in response to rising prices.

With shale plays, particularly Bakken, continuing to contribute much of the additional supply during the forecast period, market access remains a concern. So far, Bakken crude has relied on non-pipeline transportation options to reach the market, with rail moving roughly 70% of the crude. As rail transport will remain vital to Bakken oil production, the train derailments and accidents that have occurred in recent years have prompted state regulators to issue new safety rules, requiring Bakken crude to be processed to remove volatile gases prior to being loaded onto tank cars. The so-called "conditioning order", which became effective on 1 April, requires crude to be treated so that ethane, propane and other NGLs are removed prior to transport. Meanwhile, also in early April, the federal National Transportation Safety Board issued recommendations for faster replacement of rail cars that carry flammable liquids, including crude oil. The agency is recommending an "aggressive schedule" to replace or retrofit the current fleet of cars, both in terms of timing and type of new cars required. The NTSB has found fault with the enhanced CPC-1232 rail car that was supposed to replace the DOT-111 currently in use, citing its failure under a pool fire following a derailment.

Canada - January actual: Canada's oil production is estimated to have slowed by about 35 kb/d in 1Q15 compared with the prior quarter but January actual data indicate that production during that month rose slightly to 4.4 mb/d. Crude oil and condensate production, including mined bitumen, stood at 2.7 mb/d in January, up marginally. In contrast, production of synthetic crude rose by about 50 kb/d, reversing the December declines.

Output growth is expected to slow in 2H15 compared with 1H15, bringing annual output to an average 4.3 mb/d, up roughly 100 kb/d y-o-y. The outlook for Canadian production has been revised downwards by 40 kb/d since the last Report due to deteriorating prospects for non-oil sands output throughout the forecast period, as producers continue to re-evaluate projects and drilling plans across producing basins. In a recent such instance, Athabasca Oil, the shale operator in Alberta's Duvernay play, deferred a number of well completions to 2H15, when the company will commit much of its capital expenditures, although the completion and spending plans are contingent on production costs and prices in the second half of 2015.

Mined bitumen is expected to account for most of the y-o-y increase in 2015, accounting for about 70% of the growth. Production from Alberta's oil sands projects, including ExxonMobil's 40 kb/d Nabiye plant and the second phase of Kearl oil sands projects will boost production of bitumen to 1.3 m/d.

Mexico - February actual: Mexico's oil production in February rose by 95 kb/d on the month, most of which came from crude oil output in the KMZ field, which returned during the month from an unplanned outage.  Despite the m-o-m increase, Mexico's output stands about 175 kb/d lower than one year ago, as the country's legacy fields continue to experience precipitous declines. While the increase in February production was sizeable, the outlook for Mexico for 2015 remains negative, with overall output for the year forecast to fall by 180 kb/d compared with the prior year. Further slowing or even reversing the declining trend will depend on considerable investment and participation by private and international companies in the country's oil sector.

The state-owned PEMEX is contending with more than just lower prices. In early April, four oilrig workers were killed and more than 40 injured when a fire broke out at the Abkatun A Permanet platform in the Bay of Campeche. Approximately 300 workers had to be evacuated due to the fire from the 40 kb/d platform, which is part of the Abkatun Pol Chuc complex. The outage at the complex lasted about one week, and Pemex has started a gradual return of the platforms to operations. PEMEX hopes to bring all of the affected production back online by June and  has stated it does not expect that this outage to affect its total 2015 output target.

North Sea

Total North Sea production inched up in March compared with month prior, averaging just a hair over 3 mb/d. Forecast April North Sea production is expected to be roughly flat m-o-m. In tandem with the small increase in production, the Brent-Forties-Oseberg-Ekofisk (BFOE) April scheduled loadings at 960 kb/d will be about 10 kb/d higher m-o-m. Overall, North Sea production is expected to remain flat in 2015, with output declines among most North Sea producers offset by the robustness in Norway's output. However, Denmark, too, is contributing to the overall slowdown in declines. Denmark's Danish Underground Consortium has recently commenced production at the Tyra Southeast-B platform, which will boost liquids recovery from Denmark's largest gas condensate field. Production is expected to peak in 2017 at 20 kb/d of oil equivalent.

Norway - January actual, February preliminary: Total oil output in Norway averaged 1.9 mb/d in January, falling about 10 kb/d m­­-o-m. Preliminary estimates published by Norway's Petroleum Directorate revealed that February output fell by another 20 kb/d due to technical problems at the Brynhild and Draugen fields, while Ekofisk and Eldfisk saw reduced production as a result of accelerated planned maintenance shutdown. Gudrun field, which was shut down due to a gas leak in mid-February contributed to the lower output. It is likely the field will remain offline for some time as it suffered another setback in March, when Statoil discovered cracks under the platform helideck, frustrating the efforts to ramp up the fields less than one year after the field started producing. The company has not given any indication as to when the field may restart as it is contingent on the outcome of the leak investigation as well as structural analysis of the cracks.



UK - December actual, January preliminary:  Petroleum liquids production in December averaged 925 kb/d, increasing roughly 25 kb/d m-o-m, with nearly all of the increase occurring in the West of Shetland area. Preliminary data for January output show a further increase of 15 kb/d compared with December, a seasonal monthly increase. The estimated January output is only 30 kb/d higher than production registered one year ago, despite the low production volume last year that was due to operational problems in the offshore. The continued declines at older fields along with operational and technical problems depressed output during January, resulting in such a small y-o-y growth.

Non-OECD

Latin America

Brazil - February actual:  Total output in Brazil fell by about 40 kb/d in February, averaging just over 2.5 mb/d. Preliminary data show that 1Q15 production averaged 2.5 mb/d, up by an impressive 335 kb/d y-o-y. Overall production in 2015 is expected to average a little under 2.5 mb/d, increasing approximately 130 kb/d on the year. The operational problems in the Campos Basin along with the fallout from Petrobras' legal problems continue to depress the outlook for Brazil.

Continuing to grapple with the legal problems, Petrobras saw some relief recently when it was able to raise some much-needed funds. As part of its two-year divestment plan, Petrobras sold a large portion of its upstream assets in Argentina, valued at $101 million. The assets, located in Argentina's Santa Cruz province, include 26 onshore concessions and their associated infrastructure, making this the company's first sale since it announced the divestment plan. An additional lifeline to Petrobras came in the form of a $3.5 billion loan from the China Development Bank, a deal signed as part of a two-year cooperation agreement between the two entities. The funding comes to Petrobras at a time when the corruption probe has all but eliminated its access to foreign debt markets and cash needed to continue operations. Nonetheless, Petrobras faces a tough time ahead: the world's most heavily indebted company has until the end of April to publish its audited full-year financial results or risk accelerated repayments on more than $60 billion in bonds.

Meanwhile, operational problems are also plaguing the company. Production from the P-58 floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel has been halted for preventive maintenance just a year after operations started. The platform, which was producing more than 85 kb/d of oil in the Parque de Baleias complex in the Campos Basin, was recently inspected by Brazilian regulators who discovered "non-conformities". The shutdown of P-58 will affect Brazil's total output this year and it is unclear when the facility might come back online. Brazil's regulatory agency ANP reportedly announced that the FPSO would only restart operations after all of the non-conformities have been resolved and the regulator clears the facility for restart.

Improvements made to NGL data

Russia: For a number of years, IEA historical liquids production numbers for Russia have differed from a number of other sources. IEA statistics have consistently shown higher production numbers than others cited, including those published by the Russian government. The basic difference between IEA data and other sources is the IEA's inclusion of NGL volumes in total upstream production. Similar to many other sources, we rely on Central Dispatching Department of Fuel Energy Complex (CDUTek) statistics for estimates of crude oil and condensate production; however, our total liquids production number includes an estimate of NGLs which are derived from associated gas plants. These liquids are not typically considered by Russian sources to be part of the upstream production and are therefore not reported by CDUTek as production statistics. Instead, they are treated as product outputs. Companies like Sibur, whose associated-gas plants account for more than half of all Russian NGL output, report "raw NGLs" as products.

The IEA methodology for total liquids production in Russia therefore assumes that Gazprom and Novatek volumes reported in the CDUTek monthly statistics are in fact condensate, while the remainder of reported production is assumed to be crude oil. Using our previous methodology, NGL volumes were modelled output by gas treatment plants.

While we continue to treat the crude oil and condensate volumes much in the same way, we have recently refined our methodology for calculating NGLs by incorporating overall associated gas processing plant (GPP)-derived NGL volume. The new methodology uses data from Petromarket and Sibur Company, which accounts for the bulk of Russia's gas treatment plants. However, the change in methodology has not changed the overall volumes of estimated NGLs significantly.

The other change made to the data series now includes condensate volumes in crude oil as opposed to NGLs. This change was made for the sake of consistency as all other non-OPEC producers' condensate volumes are reported with crude oil volumes. Overall, the new methodology resulted in very small changes to total liquids output, however the NGL volumes have decreased by roughly 400 kb/d in 2014 while crude and condensate increased by the same amount due to the reclassification.

Thailand: The revision to Thailand's production data is due to the inclusion of produced ethane volumes that were previously not included in overall NGL production. The data series has been revised to 2012 based on availability of data. The most recently available data are through 2013 and indicate that roughly 90 kb/d of ethane volume was produced in Thailand during the year and these volumes were added to the total NGL production. All of the 2014 and 2015 ethane volumes are estimates and will be updated as soon as annual data become available.

Former Soviet Union

Russia - February actual, March preliminary:  Total production in February averaged just under 11 m/d, falling about 50 kb/d m-o-m, due in part to declines at Rosneft operations, with output from its mature fields in Western Siberia continuing to fall. On the year, Russian output was roughly flat, with less than 20 kb/d growth reported for February. However, Bashneft, which was nationalised in 3Q14 due to a court action that declared the company was illegally privatised following the breakup of the Soviet Union, showed the fastest growth, increasing output by more than 14% y-o-y to 385 kb/d. Russian private companies also saw a sizeable boost in output of about 10% to 1.1 mb/d. Preliminary March data show that production has recovered some of the February losses, averaging over 11 mb/d during the month. The overall outlook for Russia remains negative: 2015 Russian production is expected to fall by 100 kb/d y-o-y, with structural declines exacerbated by Western sanctions targeting financing and technology needed to reverse declines and boost production for the year.



FSU net exports held above 10 mb/d in February, close to record levels, despite slipping by 200 kb/d, on the month. Considering crude exports hovering near 6.6 mb/d so far in 2015 and the levels of regional refinery runs, FSU net crude demand remained above supply for a second consecutive month, which suggests that these crude export volumes are unsustainable. Moreover, it would indicate that during January and February, a large portion of the extra crude export volumes came from inventory draws. Supplies shipped via the Transneft system stood 0.9 mb/d above 4Q14 volumes which suggests that Russian exporters held back crude supplies in anticipation of the 1 January 2015 introduction of the so- called 'tax manoeuvre' which offered them more favourable export duties.

The Russian government's tax manoeuvre appears to have also affected product exports. In February, exports of middle distillates (predominantly gasoil/diesel) and 'other products' (predominantly light distillates) stood above 4Q14 levels while fuel oil shipments have decreased as it is now more profitable  to ship high value products rather than fuel oil. 

Yemen deteriorates, production halved 

Intensifying fighting in Yemen, including air strikes against Houthi rebels who have forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi from the country's capital Sanaa, have revived concerns about the security of Middle East oil supplies. Iran's Foreign Ministry called for an immediate halt to all military "aggression" in Yemen. Saudi tightened security around energy facilities and along its borders. Kuwait took similar action. Yemen shut major ports. President Hadi, a former general, emerged in 2013 as the recognised leader of Yemen in succession to Ali Abdullah Saleh through a national reconciliation process led by the UN and supported by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. The advance of the Houthis from Sanaa to Taiz and on towards Aden threatens not only to derail the domestic political settlement but to create a power vacuum in other parts of the country which Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is already beginning to fill.

Oil supply from Yemen itself is not significant in the context of the world market. Prior to the most recent Saudi-led action, repeated attacks on its oil and gas infrastructure have cut total oil output to about 120 kb/d from more than 300 kb/d just a few years ago. However, with the rapidly deteriorating security situation, Yemen's largest foreign oil sector investors have halted operations in the wake of the air strikes. Norway's DNO has ceased production at the four blocks it operates in the Masila field and has pulled out its

entire expatriate staff, shutting in roughly 40 kb/d of oil.  Austria's OMV also shut down operations. Total, too, has severely restricted its operations, reducing the oil flow to a mere trickle from the roughly 35 kb/d it used to produce.  Overall, we estimate that Yemen's production will have fallen to roughly 60 kb/d in April and we expect that production will remain at approximately 50 kb/d through the end of the forecast period.



Much bigger worry, however, is that deepening conflict could jeopardise vital shipping routes or draw Gulf powers into a proxy war on the Arabian peninsula which straddles the world's biggest oil fields.

In order to export to European customers, Gulf producers must route their oil past Yemen's coastlines via the Gulf of Aden to reach the Suez Canal. The narrow waters between Yemen and Djibouti, known as Bab el-Mandeb - less than 40 km (25 miles) wide - considered to be a world oil transport chokepoint. Just under 4 mb/d of oil - or roughly 4% of total world oil supply - was shipped through Bab el-Mandeb in 2013, according to recent data.

Access to the strait, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, is critical for ships to reach the Suez Canal and Sumed Pipeline.  The alternative route is around the southern tip of Africa which would add another 12 days to the voyage time from the Middle East to Europe. In addition, the Suez Canal generates revenues of $5bn per year, and Egypt has said it could not stand by if it felt its interests were threatened.

Riyadh has the potential to bypass the Bab el-Mandeb via its 746-mile Petroline, also known as the East-West Pipeline, which runs across Saudi Arabia from its Abqaiq complex to the Red Sea. The Petroline system consists of two pipelines with capacity of about 4.8 mb/d, with half that volume reportedly converted to natural gas. Saudi Arabia also operates the Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas liquids pipeline, which has a capacity of 290 kb/d. However, this pipeline reportedly is currently running at capacity and cannot move any additional oil.

Houthis are now said to be in control of various key points in Aden though not the whole city. The refinery has closed which will add shortages of transport fuel to already serious shortages of water and food supplies nationwide. Since the air attacks on Houthi positions began at the end of March, significant groups of expatriate workers - mainly from Russia, India and China - have been rescued from Aden and Hodeida by their countries' naval vessels. Meanwhile AQAP are reported to have seized the port of Mukallah and released a number of militants from the city's main prison.

OECD stocks

Summary

  • Supply and demand balances imply a build in global oil inventories of nearly 140 mb in 1Q15. Approximately 90% of this notional build can be identified: OECD inventories increased by almost 50 mb over 1Q15 while estimated Chinese holdings rose by close to 76 mb over the same period.
  • OECD commercial oil inventories slipped by 1.7 mb in February as a 36.4 mb build in crude oil stocks, centred in the US, failed to completely offset an aggregate 38.1 mb draw in natural gas liquids (NGLs), other feedstocks and refined products. This saw inventories' surplus to average levels widen to 80.7 mb, their highest since June 2010. At end-month, refined products covered 30.6 days of forward demand, 0.2 days less than at end-January.
  • US crude stocks added 33.3 mb in March to stand a record 497.8 mb by end-month. US builds should slow in the coming months as refiners return from seasonal maintenance while domestic crude production growth flattens out.
  • Preliminary data suggest that OECD inventories rose counter-seasonally by 29.2 mb in March as US crude holdings extended recent builds and refined products defied seasonal trends on the return of warmer weather and amid high US natural gas production, which lifted ethane and propane stocks.
  • Chinese crude inventories continued to soar during the first quarter as crude supply (domestic production plus net imports) has outstripped refinery runs. Additionally, in February, product stocks surged as refiners likely built stocks ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday.

Global inventory overview

Rising crude supply continued to lift global oil inventories in 1Q15. Supply and demand balances imply a notional build in global inventories of approximately 140 mb for the quarter, of which nearly 90% can be identified. Preliminary data suggest that OECD inventories added nearly 50 mb over 1Q15 while China increased holdings by up to 76 mb. Data also indicate that those builds have been largely centred in the US and China, and heavily skewed towards crude oil. That may help explain some of the relative strength seen in product prices compared to crude prices over the past couple of months.

US crude inventories, including those in US territories, have soared for 13 consecutive weeks beginning the second week of January, adding 92 mb and by end-March stood at 498 mb. Over the first quarter, crude inventories steadily risen amid planned and unplanned refinery outages and as domestic production growth continued. Over the coming months, these builds should slow as US throughputs ramp up while US production growth flattens out.

The build in OECD Europe has been less at 19.9 mb and concentrated in refined products. Nonetheless, total oil inventories have defied seasonal patterns, since, over the past five years they drew on average by 18.5 mb. In OECD Asia Pacific, preliminary data indicate that stocks have drawn by a steep 17.4 mb over the same period. Much of this has resulted from policy-driven reductions in the country's refining capacity, itself consequential of declining domestic demand.

Non-OECD stock data, while scarce, suggest that a large portion of the global supply overhang has been destined for Chinese storage capacity. Recent implied Chinese crude stock changes (calculated as net crude supply minus refinery runs) point to persistent unreported 1Q15 stock builds which, together with reported gains in commercial stocks, could have seen up to 53 mb of crude being added to inventories there. Additionally, reported commercial refined product inventories increased by an equivalent 23 mb (data are reported in terms of percentage stock change) over January and February.

OECD inventory position at end-February and revisions to preliminary data

OECD commercial oil inventories slipped by 1.7 mb in February after crude oil stocks soared by 36.4 mb, nearly offsetting a seasonal 35.7 mb draw in refined products while NGLs and other feedstocks fell by 2.3 mb. Since the draw in total oil holdings was far more moderate than the 24.5 mb five-year average draw for the month, the surplus of OECD inventories to average levels widened to 80.7 mb, its widest since June 2010. Refined products were pressured lower by 'other products' (-24.6 mb) which drew on weather-related demand for propane - the space heating fuel of choice in parts of the US. All told, at end-February, refined products covered 30.6 days of forward demand, 0.2 days less than at end-January.



Upon the receipt of more complete data, OECD inventories were revised downwards by 2.4 mb in January, a deceivingly small change that masked a steeper downward revision of 11.1 mb to US crude oil stocks. Despite this revision, US crude oil still surged by 20.3 mb in January. Other notable adjustments were made to US 'other products' and European gasoline and crude holdings which increased by 5.8 mb, 7.1 mb and 5.9 mb, respectively. Together with a small downward revision to December data, the 23.1 mb OECD stock build for January presented in last month's Report is now slightly lower at 21.2 mb.



Preliminary data for March indicate that OECD inventories rose counter-seasonally by 29.2 mb as US crude holdings continued their relentless rise. If this build is confirmed, this will see inventories' surplus to average levels balloon to 111 mb, its widest since September 2009. As OECD crude stocks soared by a further 29.5 mb, their surplus to average levels hit 102 mb. Refined products also defied seasonal trends, rising by 2.2 mb on the month, lifted by a relatively steep 10.5 mb rise in 'other products' as ethane and propane stocks increased in the wake of warmer weather and amid high US natural gas production.


Recent OECD industry stock changes

OECD Americas

Industry inventories in OECD Americas continued to be propelled upwards by soaring crude oil stocks in February. All told, regional inventories rose counter-seasonally by 5.5 mb to stand at 1 458 mb by end-month, 141 mb above the seasonal average. Crude holdings hit a new record level of 602 mb in February as US stocks ballooned to 464 mb (31.2 mb m-o-m). This came as refinery throughputs were stymied by seasonal turnarounds which saw 1.2 mb/d of capacity taken offline. Moreover, a drop in imports failed to offset the effect of record US crude production, which hit an average 9.2 mb/d for the month. By the end of February, US crude run cover in the US exceeded 29 days, a record.

Product holdings drew by an aggregate 38 mb over January and February on the back of planned and unplanned plant outages and strong weather-related demand. Much of the draw was led by 'other products', stocks of which drew by 18.7 mb on increased demand for propane amid frigid temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast. Nonetheless, by end-month, 'other products' inventories remained 26 mb above average levels. Middle distillates stocks drew by 8.6 mb, centred on the US East Coast (PADD 1) where logistical bottlenecks hindered pipeline movements from the Gulf Coast and required imports from as far afield as Europe, Russia and India. By end-month, total refined product holdings covered 29.0 days of forward demand, 0.8 days lower than end-January.



Preliminary data from the US Energy Information Administration indicate that in March, US crude inventories surged by a further 33.3 mb to a record 497.8 mb (including US territories). Seasonal turnarounds and unplanned outages continued to keep a lid on US throughputs, which remained 900 kb/d under their recent December high. As refiners exit maintenance, throughputs are expected to steadily increase over the next couple of months, which when combined with an expected decline in domestic crude production growth, should see crude builds slow.



Stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub rose by 10.4 mb during March and by early-April exceeded 60 mb, keeping NYMEX WTI futures prices under pressure compared to other benchmark crudes. At end-March, US seaborne imports posted an uptick as a number of cargoes arrived in the Gulf Coast after LLS crude traded consistently at a premium to ICE Brent from mid-month upwards. This saw PADD 3 stocks surge to a new record of 236 mb by early-April.

US product stocks rose counter-seasonally by 1.4 mb after 'other products' rose by a relatively steep 9.0 mb as propane stocks began to recover in the wake of a decline in heating demand, while ethane inventories rose following high natural gas production. Middle distillates also defied seasonal trends, adding 1.7 mb over the month, but by end-month remained 9.1 mb below average levels.

OECD Europe

OECD European commercial inventories rose counter-seasonally by 6.7 mb in February, which saw the region's deficit versus average levels narrow to 10 mb, its smallest since March 2012. A steep 8.3 mb rise in crude oil stocks drove stocks higher as changes in the Russian export duty regime lifted Urals exports to Europe to record levels since the turn of the year. With crude markets remaining in contango and time spreads wide enough to cover land-based storage costs, it is likely that a number of market participants purchased volumes for storage rather than for prompt use as a refinery feedstock.



The crude build was even more impressive when considered against the backdrop of strong European refinery activity amid high margins. Regional runs increased by 320 kb/d m-o-m and stood 950 kb/d above one year earlier. Consequently, and despite a cold weather-related uptick in regional demand, refined product stocks only lost 2.1 mb, far less than the 10.6 five-year average draw for the month. Middle distillates slid by 1.0 mb, less than the 9.0 mb average draw. Despite standing above year-ago levels on an absolute basis, product inventories slipped by 0.4 days below year-earlier levels on a days-of-forward-demand basis, to 39.5 days, following upward adjustments to the regional demand forecast.

Preliminary data from Euroilstock suggest that inventories in the so-called EU15 region and Norway slipped by a seasonally weak 3.2 mb in March. Counter-seasonal trends prevailed as, despite refinery runs falling by over 300 kb/d, crude stocks dropped counter-seasonally by 4.4 mb, while refined products added 1.1 mb during a month when they had drawn in each of the past six years. The build was concentrated in fuel oil (+0.3 mb) and 'other products' (+0.9 mb), while both middle distillates and motor gasoline holdings remained flat m-o-m.

OECD Asia Oceania

Inventories in OECD Asia Oceania dropped by a steep 13.9 mb in February with their deficit versus average levels broadening to 20.4 mb from 11.2 mb one month earlier. Despite refinery runs remaining higher than the previous year and previous month, refined products drew by a steep 9.0 mb with anecdotal reports suggesting that product exports from Japan and Korea have risen over recent months. All oil categories bar motor gasoline posted draws. Notably, middle distillates slipped by 3.6 mb on high heating demand for kerosene, widening the deficit of regional middle distillate inventories to average levels. Refined product holdings continue to lag both average levels and the previous year, by end-February they covered 20.2 days.



Weekly data from the Petroleum Association of Japan suggest that commercial inventories there inched up counter-seasonally by 1.1 mb in March as a combined 1.5 mb rise in crude, NGLs and other feedstocks more than offset a 0.4-mb draw in refined products.

Recent developments in Singapore and China stocks

According to data from China Oil Gas and Petrochemicals (China OGP), Chinese commercial crude inventories decreased by an equivalent 5.0 mb (data are reported in terms of percentage stock change) in February as crude imports decreased while refinery runs remained steady. Other data suggest, however, that crude supply (domestic production plus net imports) consistently outstripped refinery runs throughout 1Q15. Taking account of reported commercial stock changes, this would leave the unreported stock build at approximately 40 mb. Although some of this crude could have been destined for the country's strategic reserves, a significant volume may also have been added to unreported commercial inventories. In February, product stocks continued to soar as refiners built stocks ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, which this year took place in mid-February. Gasoil led the gains, posting a remarkable 21 mb (27%) month-on-month build, which offset a 9.0 mb draw in gasoline holdings.



Weekly data from International Enterprise pertaining to on-land commercial refined product inventories in Singapore indicate that stocks fell by 1.7 mb in March, their steepest monthly fall in eight months, as declining stocks of fuel oil and middle distillates more-than-offset a slight rise in light distillates. Fuel oil holdings drew amid healthy regional bunker demand while middle distillates slipped as exports from the territory were healthy as a number of refineries in non-OECD Asia underwent maintenance.


Prices

Summary

  • Brent futures eased in March pressured by sharply higher supplies from Middle East OPEC producers, while a relentless build in US crude stocks weighed on WTI. Prices recovered in April on rising tension in Yemen, where top exporter Saudi Arabia has launched a military campaign. At the time of writing, ICE Brent was trading at roughly $58.30/bbl - some 50% below last June's peak. NYMEX WTI was around $52.50/bbl.
  • A surge in exports from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya weighed on prices just as refiners in Europe and Asia prepared for seasonal maintenance, suppressing crude demand. Still-strong margins in Asia prompted top exporter Saudi Arabia in early April to raise its monthly formula prices to the region for a second month in a row.
  • While middle distillate markets weakened upon the end of winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere, gasoline markets rallied on the back of tightness in the US. Naphtha cracks meanwhile surged to record levels on increased gasoline blending demand and as naphtha continued to be a significantly cheaper option than competing LPG in the petrochemical sector.
  • Hedge funds' optimistic sentiment towards ICE Brent kept growing throughout March. Funds' overall positioning has been on a steady uptrend since the first signs of recovery after the price collapse. Funds displayed an opposite stance towards NYMEX WTI as their selling reached record levels since data was first available in 2006, before showing signs of rebound in early April.

Market overview

Oil prices edged lower month-on-month in March, with benchmarks feeling further pressure in April after Saudi Arabia reported that it pumped its highest ever in March and record-high US crude stockpiles continued to build. Also weighing on markets, the 2 April framework accord struck between Tehran and the P5+1 over Iran's nuclear programme sparked speculation as to when significantly higher volumes of Iranian exports would hit the market if the agreement were to be finalised. The general view seems to be some time in 2016. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 9 April that all sanctions must be removed on the very day of any final agreement, but Washington says sanctions will only be lifted gradually. The start of a Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen in late March sparked concern of possible supply disruptions through the area's vital sea lanes and lent support to prices (see Supply).

While holding well above a low of around $45/bbl hit in January, ICE Brent is trading 50% below last June's peak above $115/bbl. Brent's gains are also being capped by a strong US dollar that makes dollar-denominated crude more expensive for holders of other currencies. NYMEX WTI remains pressured by record high crude stockpiles that have built steadily since the start of the year, with its discount to Brent sinking to $9.09/bbl in March versus an average $8.07/bbl in February. WTI had sunk to nearly a $13/bbl discount to Brent in late February amid robust US production growth and a sharp reduction in refinery throughput since the start of the year. By the time of writing, however, the spread had narrowed to around $6/bbl as US refiners revved up following spring turnarounds and market players expected the low price environment to slow growth from domestic oil fields.



Although global benchmarks handed back some of their February gains during March, prices were relatively stable. ICE Brent futures dipped $1.85/bbl from February to an average $56.94/bbl in March, for a month-on-month (m-o-m) decrease of 3.1%. NYMEX WTI edged down $2.87/bbl versus February to an average $47.85/bbl in March, down 5.7% m-o-m. At the time of writing, ICE Brent was trading at around $58.30/bbl, with NYMEX WTI trading at about $52.50/bbl.



The relentless rise of US crude inventories - stocks have built steadily from the start of the year to record levels- widened out the NYMEX WTI M1-M2 spread to an average -$1.77/bbl in March versus -$1.08/bbl in February. In mid-March, the contango structure - where prompt oil is cheaper than crude for future delivery - had deepened to more than $2/bbl. By early April, however, the contango on WTI had narrowed to about $1.55/bbl as US refiners returned from maintenance and began to process more crude. In comparison, the discount of prompt-month to second-month Brent shrank to -$0.76/bbl in March versus -$0.90/bbl in February. In early April, the spread had widened out to -$1.15/bbl.



Forward curves held in contango, although the Brent M1-M12 contract spread pulled in to -$7.31/bbl in March compared to -$8.13/bbl in February. The WTI M1-M12 spread was stable at -$10.02/bbl in March versus -$9.94/bbl in February. By early April, the WTI forward curve was around -$8.bbl.

Financial markets

Market activity

Hedge funds' optimistic sentiment towards ICE Brent kept growing throughout March. Long positions for 'money managers', mostly large funds, were at record high at the time of writing, data compiled by ICE exchange showed. The long-to-short ratio, an indicator of funds' overall positioning, kept climbing to levels in line with historical averages, growing on a steady uptrend since the first signs of recovery after the price collapse. Spreading positions, although remaining at sustained levels, declined slightly, decreasing in similar fashion as unhedged shorts.



Funds displayed an opposite stance towards NYMEX WTI as they kept selling at record levels, with their total net short positions touching historical highs, just before showing notable signs of strength in early April. Overall funds' stance towards WTI in end-March sat at its lowest in more than four years following record Cushing stock levels and bearish market sentiment (see 'Crude prices' and 'Stocks'), and remains negative in spite of the relative strength of the latest data.


Financial regulation

The European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) received public comments on the current draft of the regulation technical standards (RTS) for current Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) on 2 March. Notable comments from commodity traders focused on the mechanism setting of position limits and on capital requirements. The final directive is due to be passed to the European Commission later in 2015 and it is set to come into force in 2017.

The US Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is seeking public comment on the cost-benefit analysis of its cross-border swap rules, issued under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform. Later in 2015, the US regulator could finalise much-debated rules on speculative position limit.

Spot crude oil prices

Spot crude oil prices weakened slightly in March amid plentiful supply just as refiners in Europe and Asia headed into seasonal maintenance. OPEC producers Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya ramped up exports in March and are expected to sustain the higher volumes in April. In the meantime, a surplus of Nigerian crude is building up in the Atlantic Basin due to muted buying interest from Asia and Europe.



North Sea Dated Brent eased to an average $56.05/bbl during March, for a loss of $2.04/bbl on February. The heaviest m-o-m decline was on US WTI, which was weighed down by record high US crude inventories. The US marker averaged $47.79/bbl during March - down $2.82/bbl from February. Of the global benchmarks, Middle East Dubai held up best - dipping $0.89/bbl versus February to an average $54.53/bbl in March. Sour Russian Urals sagged to an average $54.82/bbl in March, down $2.80/bbl versus February due to oversupply.

North Sea crude oil remained plentiful and differentials versus Dated Brent declined as European refiners scaled back purchases ahead of spring turnarounds. Increased exports from Libya in March and expectations of still higher volumes in April pressured the Mediterranean crude oil market. April loading programmes also indicate bigger volumes out of northern Iraq. Sour Russian Urals discount to Dated Brent widened out to -$1.24/bbl in March versus -$0.48/bbl in February.

Asian refiners are meanwhile showing scant interest in Nigerian crude with unsold cargoes loading in April and May piling up in the Atlantic Basin. Whereas the United States had been a big buyer before its domestic production began to soar, its purchases have slowed to a trickle. Hence much of the Nigerian surplus is expected to move into Europe and differentials versus Dated Brent have dropped by around $0.25/bbl since the start of April. Traders say the light, sweet - and relatively expensive - barrels will have to be discounted more heavily in order to find a home.



Robust refining margins in Asia saw healthy interest in crude oil and prompted Saudi Aramco to raise the monthly official selling price (OSP) for its May-loading cargoes by $0.20-$0.80/bbl. Customers had largely expected the increase given the slight narrowing of Dubai's contango structure. Dubai's discount to North Sea Brent has meanwhile shrunk despite a surge in Saudi exports to Asia during March. The higher flows, combined with the onset of seasonal refinery maintenance should - if anything - pull in the Brent/Dubai spread.



For its US customers, Saudi Aramco held the formula price for Arab Medium steady for May loadings versus April, raised Arab Heavy by $0.20/bbl and trimmed Arab light $0.10/bbl. The still-wide discount of WTI to Brent continued to boost differentials on rival domestic grades and helped to lure WTI-linked imports from Latin America. The premium on sour Mars crude soared to $3.60/bbl in March compared with a $0.60/bbl premium in February. The LLS differential to WTI climbed to $6.62/bbl in March versus $4.65/bbl in February. And at the time of writing, LLS was trading at a $0.90/bbl premium to Brent, which should encourage imports. The discount for Western Canadian select narrowed a touch versus WTI to -$11.13/bbl in March from -$11.47/bbl in February.


Spot product prices

Spot prices for middle distillates and fuel oil weakened across all surveyed markets in March while light products posted modest price rises. Global gasoline markets rallied on the back of tightness in the US which saw exports from there fall while supplies were drawn in from Europe and Asia. Naphtha markets benefitted from increased gasoline production and petrochemical demand which saw cracks surge to record levels across all surveyed markets. Warm weather saw middle distillate markets weaken while at the bottom of the barrel, European fuel oil markets benefitted from an opportunity to ship product to Asia.



Light product prices were propelled upwards by a multitude of factors in March. In the US, gasoline supplies tightened amid relatively strong demand (suggested by initial readings), the switch from winter to summer-grade product and continuing outages at a number of FCCs. Reports also suggest that exports fell as refiners preferentially supplied domestic markets, especially on the west coast and in the mid-continent. European gasoline prices moved higher from mid-month onwards amid refinery maintenance and healthy exports to the US East Coast, West Africa and Latin America as European exporters appear to be taking advantage of less competition from products produced in the US Gulf. These firmer prices coincided with weaker crude prices which saw European gasoline cracks increase steadily to near two-year highs of $18/bbl. Meanwhile, in an extremely rare move in Singapore, gasoline cracks rose above gasoil buoyed by robust regional demand, Southeast Asian refinery outages and recent long-haul exports to the US. By end-March the crack had soared to nearly $20/bbl before tailing off by early-April.

Naphtha markets remained exceedingly strong throughout March, buoyed by reports of strong demand from gasoline blenders and the petrochemical industry, where it remains a significantly cheaper option than competing LPG. By mid-March, the combination of relatively high prices and declining crude prices pushed cracks in Europe and Asia to record highs entrenched in positive territory. Nonetheless, this proved to be short-lived, as demand once again waned with cracks in Europe and the Middle East returning to negative territory by early-April.



Middle distillate markets were hit by the end of the heating season in the Northern hemisphere. In Europe the bearish market was compounded by continuing high imports from the US and Russia, where refiners appear to be taking increasing shipments following recent advantageous changes to the export tax regime. Considering the relative strength of LLS, middle distillate cracks on the US Gulf Coast weakened by $4.30/bbl on a monthly average basis, far steeper than elsewhere. While, in Singapore, gasoil cracks are being pressured by increasing gasoil shipments from the Middle East as new mega projects are ramped up while exports from elsewhere in the region, notably Korea, are also up on a year-on-year basis.



Cracks for products at the bottom of the barrel weakened in the US and Singapore but remained remarkably robust in Europe. Relatively high Asian fuel oil prices in early-March, on the back of reportedly strong bunker demand, saw the arbitrage to ship European product eastwards widen. Consequently, a flotilla of VLCC were booked which saw European markets tighten and cracks trend steadily upwards.  By early-April, the arbitrage window had narrowed as Asian prices were pressured lower by the influx of European cargoes, although the onset of regional refinery maintenance helped prices find a floor.


Freight

Surveyed crude tanker rates had a generally flat month bar Suezmaxes (130 Kt) leaving West Africa, which seesawed through the month and remained generally strong. Data suggest that, despite reports of barrels without a buyer in the region, the lack of land-based storage necessitates the crude to be loaded even without final destination.



Rates for very-large-crude-carriers (VLCCs) heading East from the Persian Gulf remained flat on the month on steady shipments, as higher loadings from Saudi Arabia were compensated by lower Iran and UAE eastward volumes (see 'Opec Supply'). Data compiled by Lloyds List Intelligence shows how Saudi Aramco dipped on the spot freight market to ship the extra volumes, moving about 3.9 mb/d on chartered vessels, the highest since September 2009.

Rates for Aframaxes (80-100 Kt) in the North Sea and Baltic had a flat month. North Sea overall cargoes were largely stable. Waterborne volumes were stable also in the Baltic, as Urals loadings remained strong and reached a 16-months high, as Russian exporters held back supplies anticipating more favourable export duties, in force since 1 January 2015 (see 'Supply, FSU exports').

Product rates had a generally strong month, led by the UK-US Atlantic 37Kt route. Fixtures remained strong even as the Rotterdam - New York gasoline arbitrage window closed in the beginning of March, as the rate found strength from strong backhaul distillate demand from US Gulf to Europe.



The usually flat 30Kt Singapore-Japan rate had a blip in mid-March, due to one-off strong inquiry in the  region spurred from refinery maintenance. Inquiry for spot tonnage on the Middle East Gulf to Japan 75Kt route inched up on the month, keeping the rate at sustained level.

Refining

Summary

  • Global refinery crude demand is expected to fall seasonally to 77.3 mb/d in 2Q15. While Atlantic Basin refiners mostly completed turnarounds in 1Q15, Asian refinery maintenance is set to ramp up sharply in 2Q15, with potentially as much as 2.5 mb/d of distillation capacity offline at its peak in May.
  • The estimate of global refinery crude runs for 1Q15 has been lifted by 160 kb/d since last month's Report, to 78 mb/d, on yet another month of strong OECD throughputs. Weaker than expected throughputs for a number of non-OECD countries and unexpectedly strong product demand supported margins, providing OECD refiners with an incentive to use surplus capacity. Current estimates peg 1Q15 OECD runs up 0.9 mb/d from a year earlier, while estimated non-OECD growth has been cut to less than 0.3 mb/d.
  • Non-OECD refinery runs look on track to post year-on-year (y-o-y) growth of just 250 kb/d for 1Q15, their weakest annual increase since 2009. Strong gains in China and parts of the Middle East were more than offset by outages in Latin America and Iraq, the impact of a revised tax scheme in Russia and surprisingly modest growth in the rest of non-OECD Asia in early 2015. Growth is expected to accelerate later in 2015, once new capacity ramps up.
  • OECD refinery crude intake rose counter-seasonally in February, by 280 kb/d from a month earlier, to average 37.5 mb/d, extending y-o-y gains. Seasonal drops in North America partly offset gains in Europe, and to a lesser extent OECD Asia Oceania. Healthy refinery margins underpinned growth in OECD runs of nearly 1.1 mb/d above a year-earlier, with particularly strong gains in Europe.
  • With the exception of some US Gulf Coast markers, surveyed refinery margins continued their upward spiral in March, supported by lower crude prices and healthy gasoline cracks. US Midcontinent refiners enjoyed the steepest gains, as crude prices there declined more than elsewhere. European margins also climbed, as maintenance shutdowns tightened product markets. Singapore margins saw weaker gains, but nevertheless inched higher, to their strongest rates since 2008.

Global refinery overview

Global refinery markets continued to see diverging trends in early 2015, with OECD refiners posting hefty annual gains, while non-OECD growth was surprisingly weak. In January, the latest month for which a complete set of monthly data is available, OECD refiners recorded an increase of 700 kb/d year-on-year (y-o-y) in aggregate crude throughputs, while non-OECD refinery runs actually contracted. For February, OECD throughput gains look even higher, at nearly 1.1 mb/d. European plants accounted for the bulk of this, with only modest gains coming from Asia. Since the summer of 2014, European refiners have managed seven consecutive months of annual growth in throughputs, despite extensive recent capacity reductions. Not only European, but also South Korean, refiners have profited from improved conditions, with the latter processing record amounts of crude and condensates in recent months, after an extended period of depressed margins and runs.



Refinery margins have been on an upward trend since mid-2014, despite initially lacklustre demand growth. More recently, cold weather and lower retail product prices helped spur stronger demand growth in some countries. Perhaps more importantly, refinery outages and weaker runs in many non-OECD countries seem to have created opportunities for plants with surplus capacity in more mature markets.

In Latin America, planned and unplanned shutdowns in Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela have dragged regional runs sharply lower. While the pace of the ramp-up of new refineries in the Middle East is somewhat uncertain, available data show that these new plants have so far failed to offset outages in Iraq, plagued by the ISIL campaign since last summer. Preliminary data for Russian refinery activity hint at the possibility that recent tax changes could prompt some refiners to curb output. Extensive maintenance in Asia is also limiting runs.

In the US meanwhile, refiners are currently ramping up runs sharply after completing an extensive maintenance schedule, and as labour disputes are slowly getting resolved. During the seasonal low point in refining activity, crude supplies have lifted inventories, putting further downward pressure on inland crude grades. In addition to a slowdown in supply growth, new processing capacity nearing completion should help absorb some of this surplus.

In all, global crude run estimates for 1Q15 have been lifted by 160 kb/d since last month's Report, to 78 mb/d. Current estimates peg 1Q15 OECD runs up nearly 0.9 mb/d from a year earlier, while growth for non-OECD countries has been cut to less than 0.3 mb/d. While Atlantic Basin refinery maintenance was largely completed in 1Q15, Asian turnarounds could take off line as much as 2.5 mb/d of distillation capacity at its peak in May. As a result, global crude runs are expected to decline seasonally to 77.3 mb/d on average in 2Q15, unchanged from earlier forecasts.

Margins

Refinery margins generally continued their recent upward trajectory in March, rising to their highest levels in more than two years in Europe and since 2008 for Singapore. US Midcontinent refinery margins gained the most, up $4.70/bbl on average, to well above the $20/bbl mark for all grades modelled. A 30/70 Western Canadian Select/Bakken blend made $24.40/bbl on average in a Midcontinent coking refinery, with weekly highs of more than $32/bbl touched mid-month. In contrast, US Gulf Coast cracking margins fell and coking margins trended sideways. LLS and other Gulf Coast grades saw their premium to inland grades widen, and at times stood even above Brent and other international benchmarks.



European refiners saw margins improve yet again in March, with Northwest refiners gaining an additional $1.93/bbl and Mediterranean plants fetching $1.53/bbl more. At nearly $9/bbl, the Brent cracking margins in NWE was at its highest monthly average since October 2012, when a French refinery strike had crippled regional product supplies. Simple margins remained positive, prompting higher discretionary runs, to offset maintenance shutdowns elsewhere. Singapore margins rose steadily, supported by pockets of demand strength, notably in India and South Korea, increased import demand from Australia, and the onset of regional spring turnarounds.


OECD refinery throughput

OECD refinery intake rose counter-seasonally in February, up 280 kb/d from a month earlier, to average 37.5 mb/d, extending strong y-o-y increases. Seasonal drops in North America partly offset gains in Europe, and to a lesser extent OECD Asia Oceania. Healthy refinery margins underpinned OECD runs well above year-earlier levels. In particular, European refiners processed nearly 1 mb/d more crude than a year earlier while refiners in OECD Asia Oceania increased runs by 160 kb/d year-on-year. In the OECD Americas in contrast, throughputs were unchanged from February 2014, as higher US runs were offset by annual declines in both Canada and Mexico.



While North American and European plant maintenance likely peaked in February and March, respectively, Asian spring turnarounds normally peak several months later. Asian refiners are set to take as much as 2.5 mb/d of crude capacity offline at the peak of regional plant maintenance in May, of which nearly 1.3 mb/d is poised to come from OECD countries. As a result, we forecast total Asian throughputs to decline by nearly 2.0 mb/d from December's high point through May, of which OECD Asia Oceania accounts for half. Refinery demand in the Atlantic basin looks set to pick up from April onwards, even as plant turnarounds cause Asian crude demand to ease through June.

Following already lower European throughputs in March, confirmed by preliminary data from Euroilstock released on 10 April, runs are likely to remain relatively subdued in coming months. Some of the support, which has recently underpinned higher European throughputs, is expected to fall away as runs in competing regions ramp up. Indeed, as of early April, European gasoline cracks were already moving sharply lower, despite regional maintenance outages. Lower export demand from both the US, where refiners were ramping up runs after maintenance, and Africa pushed prices lower. In all, OECD throughputs are forecast to drop from an average 37.2 mb/d in 1Q15 to 36.5 mb/d in 2Q15, when annual gains are expected to ease to 370 kb/d, from 910 kb/d in 1Q15 and 1.2 mb/d in 4Q14.



Refinery activity in the OECD Americas hit a seasonal low in February, falling on weak runs in both the US and Canada. Extended plant maintenance and unscheduled outages in both countries curbed runs from January. Compared with the previous year, lower activity in Canada and Mexico offset increases in the US. Indeed, despite suffering the largest industry walkout in more than 35 years, US refiners managed to raise throughputs by some 200 kb/d.



Compared with January, US runs were roughly 170 kb/d lower in February, as East Coast runs plunged by 180 kb/d, to 910 kb/d. Freezing temperatures in February forced East Coast plants to curb runs to just 775 kb/d mid-month, the lowest weekly level since November 2012. 

Since the first week of March, however, US refinery activity has been on a steady upward trend, rising more than 600 kb/d in total by early April. On a monthly average level, US runs were 260 kb/d higher in March, at nearly 15.6 mb/d, with gains of 150 kb/d on the East Coast and 145 kb/d on the Gulf Coast more than offsetting small declines in other regions.

Despite a national agreement reached between the United Steel Workers (USW) union and industry, labour strikes continue to affect operations at some US refineries. While lead negotiator Shell and union representatives reached a tentative deal to end the largest US refinery strikes in 35 years, mid-March, local issues were left to be discussed between the regional chapters of the union (USW) and the respective refinery owners. Workers at Tesoro's 166 kb/d Golden Eagle refinery in California, meanwhile, ratified a new contract in late March, putting an end to a 52-day strike at the plant. The Tesoro plant had been completely idle since workers walked out on 1 February, as it was also undertaking maintenance at the time. In the case of BP's Whiting refinery, the sixth largest in the US, talks to resolve local issues have so far been unsuccessful. Whiting employees walked out on 8 February to join the national strike. Since then, a number of malfunctions have been reported at the plant, reducing throughput rates. Disagreements over local issues have also kept strikes going at Marathon's Galveston Bay, Texas, refinery, the BP - Husky JV Toledo, Ohio refinery and at Lyondell's Houston, Texas, plant.



To absorb increasing North American oil supplies, 325 kb/d of new distillation capacity is expected to come on line in 2015. Kinder Morgan began commissioning the first of two 50 kb/d condensate splitters on the Houston ship channel in March. The splitter, which had been scheduled to start up in 2014, was expected to reach full capacity by the end of the month. The second splitter is on track to come online during July. Also the 20 kb/d Dakota Prairie refinery in North Dakota should be completed in 2Q15.

European refiners enjoyed another bumper month in February, taking crude throughputs above 12 mb/d, as margins remained supportive. A combination of lower excess capacity, after a string of refinery closures in recent years, and outages in non-OECD countries have allowed European refiners a change in fortunes. February marked the seventh consecutive month of year-on-year growth in European throughputs. Gains averaged above 700 kb/d over the period, reaching 950 kb/d in February.

Latest information from Euroilstocks shows refinery intake in the EU15 countries and Norway falling some 320 kb/d in March, though maintaining robust annual gains. The steepest declines came from Germany and the Netherlands, in line with expectations based on announced maintenance outages. In Germany, Gunvor reportedly shut its Ingolstadt refinery for a two-week period in March, and the 320 kb/d JV Miro refinery in Karlsruhe was closed at end-March for some 40 days. In the Netherlands, Shell started work at its 400 kb/d Pernis refinery in March, contributing to a 70 kb/d monthly decline. A 75 kb/d decline was also seen in Belgian runs, while other countries were largely unchanged.

Regional throughputs are likely to stay around March levels, or even decline further, in coming months, as maintenance outages remain relatively high. Amongst others, Finland's Neste Oil will start an eight-week major turnaround of its Porvoo refinery from April. French Total announced it would shut its Donges plant for nearly two months from May, while in the UK, Conoco's Humber and Ineos' Grangemouth plants were also planning work. Margins and throughputs could also come under renewed pressure as support from recently weak US runs falls away, when these ramp up through the summer months.



Turkish refinery upgrade lifts throughputs

The completion of Turkish state refiner, Tupras' Residuum Upgrading Project (RUP) at its Izmit refinery is set to lift Turkey's refinery throughputs in 2015. The $2.7 billion RUP project, launched in 2011, will boost the conversion capacity of the 220 kb/d Izmit refinery and enable it to process heavier and higher sulphur crudes. Since its official opening on 15 December, the plant has steadily brought units online and raised runs, with latest data showing total Turkish crude throughputs averaging 480 kb/d in February, up 60 kb/d from January and some 80 kb/d above a year earlier.

Turkey's crude throughput rates are expected to increase further over 2015. Tupras, which currently has a total refining capacity of 560 kb/d in four refineries, announced it was planning to lift runs to 530 kb/d in 2015, from just over 400 kb/d on average in 2014. More importantly perhaps, the project will transform the refinery into one of the most complex in the world, and significantly alter the country's refinery yields. According to official data, Turkey's fuel oil yields averaged 17% in 2014, compared with a European average of 10%.

As such, the upgrader, which includes a vacuum distillation unit, a coker, a hydrocracker and diesel desulphurisation units, will significantly lower the country's overall fuel oil yields. It will allow the plant to turn 77 kb/d of fuel oil into 61 kb/d of diesel/jet, 12 kb/d of gasoline and 2 kb/d of LPG, and go some ways to cut product imports and reduce Turkey's current account deficit. Turkey's net oil product imports averaged 295 kb/d in 2014, of which diesel/gasoil accounted for nearly 90%. Turkey had a surplus of gasoline and fuel oil last year.

The real change to Turkey's product balances will only come once the Socar Turkey Aegean Refinery (STAR) at Aliaga is completed, however. The 214 kb/d refinery, which is slated for completion in 2017/2018 at an anticipated cost of $5.5 billion, will produce nearly 100 kb/d ultra-low sulphur diesel and 35 kb/d of jet fuel. The plant, which will also yield products such as LPG, naphtha and xylene, will be integrated with the nearby Petkim petrochemicals project.

In OECD Asia Oceania, total crude throughputs inched higher in February from a month earlier, hovering nearly 0.2 mb/d above the previous year on the back of higher South Korean throughputs. Japanese and Australian activity meanwhile suffered from recent capacity closures. Australia's Caltex turned its 135 kb/d Kurnell refinery into an import terminal in late 2014, following Shell's conversion of its Clyde refinery in late 2012. By May, Australia will reduce the number of refineries to just four, when BP completes the shutdown of its 102 kb/d Bulwer refinery. 



The refinery closures have raised Australia's product import requirement, and provided support to regional product exporters. South Korean refinery runs reached another record high in February, inching up 30 kb/d to 2.83 mb/d on average (and 350 kb/d above a year earlier). Runs have been supported by good margins in the region and also from strong domestic demand. According to government figures, gasoil consumption rose 12.7% y-o-y in February while gasoline demand surged 11.8% from a year earlier, reportedly on the back of lower retail prices.

Korean throughputs are set to decline through May, when maintenance peaks. Just under 200 kb/d of capacity was reported offline in March and April, rising to more than 400 kb/d in May. Amongst announced shutdowns, SK Energy was to take a 240 kb/d crude unit at its Ulsan refinery offline in March, followed by a 280 kb/d unit off Hyundai Oil bank's Desean plant and a 180 kb/d unit at GS Caltex' Yeochon refinery in May.



In contrast, Japanese refinery runs continue to trend below year-earlier levels. Refiners cut capacity by 0.5 mb/d during 2014, and further reductions have been scheduled for 2015. Brazil's Petrobras announced in March it will convert its 100 kb/d Nishihara refinery in Okinawa into an oil importing terminal. The plant, which is the only one in Okinawa, was put up for sale in 2011 and failed to elicit buying interest. Also Idemitsu and Tonen General just announced they had cut capacity. Idemitsu cut crude capacity at its Chiba refinery by 20 kb/d on 1 April, and has announced it will cut capacity at the plant by another 35 kb/d, while Tonen reduced the capacity of its Kawasaki refinery by 10 kb/d.

Non-OECD refinery throughput

Non-OECD refinery runs were largely unchanged from a year earlier in January, as y-o-y declines in Latin America and the Middle East offset gains in non-OECD Asia. Planned and unplanned outages curbed activity in Colombia and Brazil, respectively, while the extended shutdown of Iraq's largest refinery curtailed Middle Eastern throughputs. Preliminary data suggest Russian refinery runs finally declined year-on-year in March, after growing for 22 consecutive months, possibly as recently implemented tax changes have reduced the profitability of simple refineries with high fuel-oil yields. At 40.8 mb/d, non-OECD throughputs are forecast only 0.3 mb/d above a year earlier, their weakest annual growth rate for any quarter since the start of 2009. With new capacity slowly ramping up, and some refiners delaying maintenance due to good margins, growth is expected to pick up in 2Q15, to 0.6 mb/d, with gains mostly stemming from Asia and the Middle East.



Chinese refiners processed an estimated 10.4 mb/d in February, up by 240 kb/d from January and nearly 0.5 mb/d above a year earlier. Industry surveys show state refiners planned to keep runs largely unchanged in March before maintenance cuts rates in April. In particular, maintenance at Wepec's Dalian plant and PetroChina's Dushanzi refinery will reduce runs from April.



In Other Asia, Indian refinery throughputs averaged 4.6 mb/d in February, just 50 kb/d shy of both the previous month and a year earlier. Reliance reportedly shut half of its 660 kb/d refinery for four-week period over March and April, while BPCL shut its 120 kb/d Bina plant from two months from end-March. Essar, meanwhile, deferred maintenance at its Vadinar refinery, reportedly to profit from robust margins. The company earlier announced it planned to shut the 405 kb/d plant for four weeks over May-June, but is now expected to start the maintenance in July. In other news, it was reported that IOC plans to start trial runs at its 300 kb/d Paradip refinery in April, and to reach full capacity by 3Q15 at the earliest.

According to preliminary data, Russian refinery runs dropped 260 kb/d in March, to 5.6 mb/d, as refiners embarked on maintenance. Runs are expected to drop further in April, as turnarounds intensify, with an average of 530 kb/d of distillation capacity offline, compared with 290 kb/d in March. If confirmed by final data, March would mark the first month this year with runs contracting year-on-year, by about 3%, possibly as a result of changes to the country's oil industry taxation that took effect on 1 January. The new taxes reduced export duties on crude oil and light oil product products while raising the mineral extraction tax for crude oil and the export duties for fuel oil, significantly impacting Russian oil exports in recent months (see FSU Exports in Supply). As a result, domestic Russian crude oil prices have been raised, significantly reducing the profitability of Russian refiners, and making simple refineries, with high fuel oil yields, unprofitable to operate.



Latest JODI data show total Middle Eastern throughputs below year-earlier levels in January, despite the start-up of new plants. A 250 kb/d annual drop in Iraqi refinery runs, after the country's largest refinery was shut last summer saw regional rates lower. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are expected to post robust annual growth in the coming months, however, as new plants reach capacity. Saudi Aramco announced in March it will decommission its aging 100 kb/d Jeddah refinery on the Red Sea in 2016, as rehabilitating the plant would be uneconomic. Aramco had already shelved its $2-3 billion Ras Tanura upgrading project following the recent drop in oil prices.



In Latin America, runs continue to trend below year-earlier levels. Brazilian data for February showed crude runs remained subdued around 1.9 mb/d, following a string of outages at the end of December. Petrobras earlier announced it would only resume full rates at its 250 kb/d Reduc refinery mid-March, after a damaged cracking unit had curbed runs for more than three weeks. In January, an explosion in a hydrogen unit of the 320 kb/d Landulpho Alves refinery in the north of the country had also cut runs. On a more positive note, Petrobras started up the second of two diesel hydrotreaters at its Abreu e Lima refinery in March, and was gearing up to start the second of two 115 kb/d crude units. The first unit started crude processing in December 2014, and the company says it remains on target to start the second unit in May. According to Ecopetrol's latest financial report, the Colombian company's Reficar refinery project, which aims to double the plant's capacity to 160 kb/d from 85 kb/d and increase its complexity, was 96.3% complete at the end of 2014. The plant has been shut since March 2014.