India could provide Iranian crude with stable outlet at least in near term

Platts–Indian refiners could offer Iran some respite at least for the next few quarters as the South Asian crude oil importers are keen to adhere to their term supply contract obligations with the Persian Gulf producer, undeterred by Washington’s efforts to restrain Tehran’s oil sales. 

The US’ re-imposition of sanctions on Iran has exerted little impact on the trade flows between India and the OPEC producer so far. India’s state-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd., for one, is set to receive its regular monthly term crude oil cargo from National Iranian Oil Company in the coming days.

BPCL’s 190,000 b/d Kochi refinery on the west coast of India will receive 130,000 mt of its monthly term Iranian crude oil for May, trade sources with knowledge of the matter told S&P Global Platts last week.

Indian state-run refiners typically source their crude oil requirements through term contracts with a host of suppliers, including Iran.

BPCL currently holds a term contract with NIOC to buy 1 million mt for its Kochi refinery over April 2018-March 2019.

In April, the refinery received two cargoes totaling 260,000 mt of Iranian crude oil.

The impact of US sanctions could be felt after six months, but “not immediately,” a New Delhi-based trade source said.

India’s flagship state-run refiner Indian Oil Corp. also holds a term contract with Iran to receive 180,000 b/d in the current fiscal year ending March 2019.

IOC is keen to maintain its trade relationship with NIOC as “Iran offers a longer credit period than the usual 30 days offered by other oil exporting nations,” a company official said.

India, Asia’s second biggest energy consumer, had received regular supply of crude oil from Iran during the previous international sanctions against its unclear nuclear program.

Among the top 10 suppliers to India, Iran occupied the third spot with around 18.4 million mt of crude oil imported during the first 10 months of the fiscal year over 2017-2018 — from April 2017 to January 2018 — according to the Indian oil ministry’s provisional data. MIXED RESPONSE IN ASIA

India’s stable imports from Iran comes in stark contrast to other major Iranian crude oil buyers in Northeast Asia, with South Korea already well on its way to limit its crude intake from the OPEC producer.

Latest trade data from Seoul showed that South Korea’s crude oil imports from Iran fell 24.9% year on year in April to 9.09 million barrels, marking the sixth straight month of declines since November last year, when imports fell 26.8% year on year to 10.37 million barrels.

On the contrary, India’s crude oil imports from Iran are forecast to increase by around 31% year on year to 500,000 b/d in fiscal 2018-2019, as both the countries pledged for enhanced engagement in the oil and gas sector.

In April, India offered a fresh $4 billion development plan for the Farzad B gas field to Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh during the latter’s visit to the South Asian nation.

India’s oil ministry officials said it is still early to assess what would be the fallout of US President Donald Trump’s move to restore sanctions on Iran, and its implications on India’s next term contracts with NIOC.

“As a crude buyer, we have all options open that include imports from the US. But the main determinant will be a competitive price,” a senior official with an Indian state-run refiner said.

Earlier this month, NIOC had raised the June OSP for Iranian Heavy crude bound for Asia by 85 cents/b from May, to a discount of 65 cents/b to the average of Platts Oman/Dubai crude assessments in June.

The latest monthly price tag puts the Iranian grade’s OSP differential 60 cents/b cheaper than its rival Saudi Arabia’s crude. Saudi Aramco has set the June OSP for Arab Medium grade bound for Asia at Platts Oman/Dubai average minus 5 cents/b.