Russia's exports of the medium sweet ESPO Blend crude oil in February are expected to total 2.4 million mt, down 10.45% from January, according to the latest monthly loading program.
ESPO Blend's February program runs from January 30 to February 28 and will comprise 24 cargoes, each 100,000 mt in size.
The February-loading rate will average 591,200 b/d, down from 600,158 b/d scheduled for January, using a conversion factor of 7.39.
State-owned Rosneft holds eight cargoes for February, down from nine, as seen in the December-loading program, market sources said. Rosneft has not issued a tender for the February-loading program.
Russia's Surgutneftegaz holds seven cargoes for February loading, down from eight, as seen in the January loading program.
Surgut sold all its February-loading cargoes via two tenders, market sources said. Two 100,000 mt cargoes for loading over January 31 to February 5 and February 4-9 were sold to trading houses at premiums of around $3/b to Platts front-month Dubai crude assessments, trade sources said.
Another five cargoes, each 100,000 mt in size, for loading over the second half of February were sold to unknown buyers at premiums ranging from $2.9-$3/b to Dubai crude assessments, market sources added.
February loading ESPO barrels were also heard traded at premiums close to $3.4/b to Dubai, bought by Japanese refiners, said trade sources.
"Middle distillate margins were good so the Japanese bought a couple of ESPO cargoes at higher premiums," a trading source said.
"Premiums then came down to high $2s-$3/b levels," the source added.
Demand from China, the most favored destination for the Russian crude was steady month on month, market sources said.
For the month of March however, a slump in demand is expected on account of the refinery maintenance season, sources added.
The Brent/Dubai Exchange of Futures for Swaps, a key indicator of ICE Brent's premium to Dubai swap was largely stable month on month, averaging $1.52/b in December as compared with $1.32/b in November, data from S&P Global Platts showed.
Small producers including Swiss-based Tenergy holds six cargoes for February, down from seven for the previous month, and Lukoil has one cargo, according to the program.
Russia's Gazprom Neft holds two cargoes according to the program and sold one of its cargoes via tender to a trading house at a premium of around $3.3/b to Dubai crude assessments, market sources said.
Overall, February-loading ESPO Blend cargoes were sold at premiums of around $2.9-$3.40/b, sources added.
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