INTERNATIONAL CRUDE OIL PRICING
Platts Information Papers on Crude Oil Pricing
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Below are links to three Platts information papers on crude oil pricing in the Asian market.
Australian Crude Oil Requirements
Australia has seven major operating oil refineries. While Australia has substantial crude oil production, Australian refineries only source a minority of their crude oil requirements from Australian fields.
This is partly because Australia crude oil is generally light and getting lighter. Some heavier crude oils are required to produce heavier products such as lubricating oils and bitumen, and as this occurs Australian refineries (which are in general not designed to process large quantities of the very light crudes), must resort to heavier crude imports.
The other significant reason is that overseas crude oils can be purchased at lower prices. This is a function of the value that all oil refineries place on each possible crude they can purchase. Every refinery has a different configuration of plant and equipment and depending upon the product demand in their particular market, particular refinery limitations, and the different product yields (petrol, diesel, kerosene) that are produced from each crude oil, they will each see slightly different value for every crude oil at a particular point in time. Australian refineries are no different and with the highly competitive Australian market under considerable financial pressure, refiners are always seeking ways of reducing costs, and finding cheaper crudes (or better value crudes) is one of these.
See the latest version of 'Downstream Petroleum' for further information on Australian refineries, crude oil imports and sources, and on the Asian regional refining market more generally.
Crude Oil Pricing
Please refer to the International Energy Agency Oil Market Report for the latest information and data on crude oil prices and on the international oil market - including key data on supply, demand, stocks, prices and refinery activity. See omrpublic.iea.org/.
In general, crude oil is sold through a variety of contract arrangements and in spot transactions. Oil is also traded on futures markets but not generally to supply physical volumes of oil, more as a mechanism to distribute risk. These mechanisms play an important role in providing pricing information to markets.
In fact, the pricing of crude oils has become increasingly transparent from the 1990s onwards through the use of marker crudes such as:
The main criteria for a marker crude is for it to be sold in sufficient volumes to provide liquidity (many buyers and sellers) in the physical market as well as having similar physical qualities of alternative crudes.
In addition, the marker crude should provide pricing information. WTI does this through its use on the New York Metals Exchange (NYMEX) as the basis of a futures contract where trade is equivalent to many hundreds of millions of barrels per day, even though physical WTI production is less than 1 million barrels per day. A futures contract for crude oil is a promise to deliver a given quantity of crude oil but this rarely occurs as participants are more interested in taking a position on the price of the crude oil. Futures markets are a financial instrument to distribute risk among participants with the side effect of providing transparency on the pricing of crude oil.
Brent offers pricing information based more on the physical trading of oil through spot trading, and forward trading but also offers futures trading but not to the same extent as WTI.
In Asia there is no futures exchange where crude oil is traded and which would provide pricing information to the same extent as WTI and Brent. In Asia the pricing mechanism for say Tapis, a marker for light sweet crudes in the region, is based on an independent panel approach where producers, refiners and traders are asked for information on Tapis crude trades.
Pricing of Physical Crude Oil Trades
Generally this is based on a formula approach where a marker crude is used as the base and then a quality differential (premium/discount) as well as a demand/supply (premium/discount) is added depending on the crude being purchased.
Thus in times of tight supply this premium will rise and gradually drag up the Marker crude price, whilst in times of surplus supply, a reduced premium or even a discount will drag down the Marker crude price. Of course big changes, announcement or events that can significantly influence crude supply levels will sometimes result a large step change in the prices of crude oil (eg. OPEC announcements, civil unrest or wars, hurricane activity, major refinery shutdowns or outages etc).
That is, crude oils being purchased do not always slavishly follow marker crudes. Marker crudes are indicators of what is happening in regional markets.
Crude Oil as an Input Cost to Refiners
It is true to say that the cost of crude oil is the major input cost for refiners. However, the relationship between such a cost and the final price for a petroleum product produced from that crude, such as petrol or diesel, is not as direct as one would think.
There are, for instance, additional petroleum product markers which give a guide to prices. That is, prices are not just a function of cost-push, but are also strongly influenced by demand-pull.
For example, USA environmental requirements for gasoline (petrol) have at times pushed up the prices in the USA by significantly more than the movements in crude prices. This is the market working as refiners who see these prices work hard to increase production to capture some of these high prices before they dissipate under competitive pressure – both from within the USA and from the resulting massive influx of product cargoes from other producing centers in the world.
There are also a number of other variables which affect the price of products such as petrol. In addition the perception of the purchasers and sellers in the market as to the price risk over time can also add or subtract premiums to the product marker price.
For information on price markers for the Australian market, see:
Prices of crude oil markers and petroleum product markers are affected by a myriad of factors including:
They all have a role in determining the final price charged to consumers and the role that each of these elements plays can change over time. It is this very complexity in markets which makes it very difficult to determine a theoretical price as part of regulation in markets because there may be a perception that because the theoretical price is different from the market price that the market price is 'not fair' for some reason.