Shell calls for tougher regulation of Dubai oil benchmark

Fri Dec 18, 2015 4:08am EST
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By Liz Hampton and Florence Tan

HOUSTON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell PLC on Thursday called for tougher regulation of the Dubai crude benchmark, the Middle East's most important oil-pricing mechanism, after record trade volumes skewed prices.

Industry players have been calling on pricing agency Platts to review its Dubai assessment, saying record trading by Chinese state companies in August during the Market-on-Close process pushed liquidity to the limit and disrupted Dubai's relationship with other global benchmarks. The Dubai marker sets the prices for more than 12 million barrels per day of Middle Eastern and Russian crude exports to Asia.

"Regrettably, there have been times in recent months where the price of Dubai (crude) was assessed well in excess of the fundamental refining value of other comparable Middle Eastern crudes," Shell said in a statement.

The Dubai benchmark is set based on sales of three Middle Eastern grades. The record trading between Chinese state traders Chinaoil and Unipec changed the relationship between Dubai and the other global oil benchmarks, Brent in Europe and West Texas Intermediate in the U.S.

At the time, both WTI and Brent futures showed a contango market structure, when prices for prompt supply are cheaper than for later delivery, demonstrative of an over supplied market.

However, the buying interest from Chinaoil pushed the Dubai market into backwardation, when cargoes in the prompt month are more expensive than future months, indicating tight supply. Prior to Chinaoil's buying, Dubai was also in contango.

Shell's statement argued that the Asian crude oil price is not subject to oversight as rigorous as benchmarks in other regions, since the onus to ensure a fair market lies with price reporting agencies rather than regulators.

To level the playing field, Shell is calling for position limits and clearing procedures, similar to those in North America and Europe.   Continued...

Shell's company logo is pictured at a gas station in Zurich April 8, 2015.   REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann