Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

Singapore refinery margins have collapsed following a rise in fuel exports and a jump in oil prices. Tighter margins and rising labor costs mean many Asian refineries struggle to make a profit. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 February 2019

Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

  • Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India
  • However, overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs

SINGAPORE: Asia’s biggest oil consumers are flooding the region with fuel as refining output is exceeding consumption amid a slowdown in demand growth, pressuring industry profits.
Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India.
Yet overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs.
Compounding the supply overhang, fuel exports from the Middle East, which BP data shows added more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity from 2013 to 2017, have doubled since 2014 to around 55 million tons, according to Refinitiv.
Car sales in China, the world’s second-biggest oil user, fell for the first time on record last year, and early 2019 sales also remain weak, suggesting a slowdown in gasoline demand.
For diesel, China National Petroleum Corp. in January said that it expected demand to fall by 1.1 percent in 2019. That would be China’s first annual demand decline for a major fuel since its industrial ascent started in 1990.
The surge in fuel exports combined with a 25 percent jump in crude oil prices so far this year has collapsed Singapore refinery margins, the Asian benchmark, from more than $11 per barrel in mid-2017 to just over $2.
Combine the slumping margins with labor costs and taxes and many Asian refineries now struggle to make money.
The squeezed margins have pummelled the stocks of most major Asian petroleum companies, such as Japan’s refiners JXTG Holdings Inc. or Idemitsu Kosan, South Korea’s top oil processor SK Innovation, Asia’s top oil refiner China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. and Indian Oil Corp., with some companies dropping by about 40 percent over the past year. Jeff Brown, president of energy consultancy FGE, said the surge in exports and resulting oversupply were a “big problem” for the industry.
“The pressure on refinery margins is a case of death by a thousand cuts ... Refinery upgrades throughout the region are bumping up against softening demand growth,” he said.
The profit slump follows a surge in fuel exports from China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Refinitiv shipping data shows fuel exports from those countries have risen threefold since 2014, to a record of around 15 million tons in January.
The biggest jump in exports has come from China, where refiners are selling off record amounts of excess fuel into Asia.
“There is a risk for Asian market turmoil if (China’s fuel) export capacity remains at the current level or grows further,” said Noriaki Sakai, chief executive officer at Idemitsu Kosan during a news conference last week.
But Japanese and South Korean fuel exports have also risen as demand at home falls amid mature industry and a shrinking population. Japan’s 2019 oil demand will drop by 0.1 percent from 2018, while South Korea’s will remain flat, according to forecasts from Energy Aspects.
In Japan, oil imports have been falling steadily for years, yet its refiners produce more fuel than its industry can absorb. The situation is similar in South Korea, the world’s fifth-biggest refiner by capacity, according to data from BP.
Cho Sang-bum, an official at the Korea Petroleum Association, which represents South Korean refiners, said the surging exports had “triggered a gasoline glut.”
That glut caused negative gasoline margins in January.


Lebanon plunged into ‘deliberate depression’: World Bank

Updated 01 December 2020

Lebanon plunged into ‘deliberate depression’: World Bank

  • The fall 2020 edition of the Lebanon Economic Monitor predicted the economy will have contracted by 19.2 percent this year
  • Lebanon’s economy started collapsing last year as a result of years of corrupt practices and mismanagement

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s economy is sinking into a “deliberate depression,” the World Bank said Tuesday in a damning report stressing the authorities’ failure to tackle the crisis.
The fall 2020 edition of the Lebanon Economic Monitor predicted the economy will have contracted by 19.2 percent this year and projected a debt-to-GDP ratio of 194 percent next year.
“A year into Lebanon’s severe economic crisis, deliberate lack of effective policy action by authorities has subjected the economy to an arduous and prolonged depression,” a World Bank statement said.
Lebanon’s economy started collapsing last year as a result of years of corrupt practices and mismanagement.
The crisis was made worse by a nationwide wave of anti-government protests that paralyzed the country late last year and the Covid-19 pandemic this year.
The August 4 Beirut port blast, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, brought the country to its knees and further fueled public distrust.
“Lebanon is suffering from a dangerous depletion of resources, including human capital, with brain drain becoming an increasingly desperate option,” the World Bank warned.
In 2020, Lebanon defaulted on its debt, banks imposed capital controls and inflation has reached triple-digit rates, dragging the country into its worst ever economic crisis.
Instead of taking emergency measures to rescue the economy, Lebanon’s political elite has continued to dither and bicker.
The previous government headed by Hassan Diab failed to adopt ambitious policies to tackle the crisis. It resigned under pressure over the blast nearly four months ago and a new cabinet has yet to be formed.
“Lack of political consensus on national priorities severely impedes Lebanon’s ability to implement long-term and visionary development policies,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank regional director.
He called for the quick formation of a new government capable of implementing short-term emergency measures and addressing long-term structural challenges.
“This is imperative to restore the confidence of the people of Lebanon,” he said.
An annual index compiled by Gallup that tracks people’s experience of stress and sadness said “no other country in the world saw negative experiences skyrocket across the board as much as Lebanon.”
The Negative Experience Index’s data was collected before the Beirut port blast, Lebanon’s worst ever peace time disaster.