Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 July 2019

Oil climbs as Gulf of Oman oil tanker incidents raise geopolitical risk

Brent gained $2 per barrel ending its recent bearishness that saw it trade at the lowest point this month since the beginning of 2019

The crude oil tanker Front Altair pictured in 2016. EPA
The crude oil tanker Front Altair pictured in 2016. EPA

Brent reversed recent losses and gained $2.42 per barrel on Thursday as another tanker incident in the Middle East pushed prices higher.

Brent futures were trading at $62.39 per barrel, more than 4 per cent higher at 04:35pm UAE time.

An "unspecified incident” took place in the Gulf of Oman, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy. The US Navy said it is assisting two oil tankers targeted in suspected attacks.

According to reports in Iranian media, two tankers came under attack following an explosion off the coast of Oman. Sources cited by Reuters identified the tankers as Marshal Islands-flagged Front Altair and the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous. Crews from both vessels were evacuated, according to the report.

Front Altair had been on course after loading 75,000 metric tonnes of naphtha from Abu Dhabi's Takreer refinery on June 11. The vessel was abandoned by crew between 03:30 to 03:50 GMT who transferred to a passing ship after it was reportedly hit by a surface missile, Research firm Refinitiv said in a note later on Thursday.

The Kokuka Courageous, which undertook two port loads in Mesaieed, Qatar and the Saudi port city of Jubail, was carrying methanol bound for Singapore when it came under attack off the coast of Fujairah.

There was a breach of the hull above its water line on the starboard side, according to the ship's managers Bernhard Schulte.

The incidents are the latest affecting tankers and oil infrastructure in Middle East over the last couple of months.

In May, two tankers belonging to Saudi Aramco suffered significant damage as a result of sabotage attacks. One of the vessels was on its way to the eastern Saudi port of Ras Tanura to be loaded with crude destined for customers in the US.

A day after the incident, an East-West pipeline in Saudi Arabia came under attack by armed drones forcing a temporary shut down.

The incidents last month pushed Brent, the benchmark for more than half of the world's oil, above $70 per barrel, as market observers said a higher geopolitical risk premium will be increasingly factored into the prices.

However, crude prices last weak slipped to the lowest level since January, declining 16 per cent in just three weeks as the trade war standoff between the US and China weighed on the markets.

Analysts such as Vandana Hari, founder and chief executive of Singapore-based Vandana Insights said the overall bearishness in oil market would likely continue on the back of fears over waning global demand for oil. However, any escalation in attacks on tankers could push the oil prices higher.

"Today’s attacks, especially coming just about a month after similar incidents involving oil tankers in the same region, are bound to send a jolt through the market. But unless they turn out to be the precursor of a larger warfare in the Middle East – which is highly doubtful – they will soon be forgotten,” she noted.

Opec+ as the alliance of oil producing nations headed by Saudi Arabia and Russia is known, has highlighted global recession and the trade stand-off as the biggest concerns for the oil markets. The alliance is likely to rollover production cuts into the second half of the year, as concerns over an inventory overhang still dominate discussion.

Opec members will need to cut supply by 3.2 million barrels per day between 2018 and 2020 just to keep the oil market balance at the current level, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Giovanni Staunovo, commodity analyst at UBS said markets would remain wary of pricing in a high geopolitical risk premium if there is no actual disruption to oil supply.

"Market reacts nervously, as the Middle East exports a lot of oil and a disruption of flows trough the Strait of Hormuz cannot be offset by SPR [strategic petroleum reserves] releases,” he said.

“That said, to see the market keeping an elevated risk premium in oil prices, such attacks need to result in oil disruptions. Otherwise, similar to last time, the risk premium will be priced out again,” he added.

Updated: June 14, 2019 01:56 PM

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