As oil crashes due to the impact of the coronavirus, it’s easy to overlook an even more dismal reality for producers: the real prices they’re getting for their barrels are worse still. Having collapsed by about 60% this year, Brent and West Texas Intermediate crude have stabilized at around $25 a barrel, but the price rout is far deeper for actual cargoes, which are changing hands at large and widening discounts to the global benchmarks. The discounts mean that in the physical market, some crude streams are trading at $15, $10 and even as little as $8 a barrel.
“The physical market is in pain, and there is more pain to come,” said Torbjorn Tornqvist, the co-founder of Gunvor Group Ltd., a large trading house. “We will see the full weight of the oversupply in a couple of weeks.”
Crude oil in the physical market trades at a premium or discount to Brent, West Texas Intermediate and other benchmarks. At times of surplus, premiums narrow and discounts widen. But the current situation is almost unprecedented, with discounts in some cases at multi-decade highs. Examples abound from Africa to the Middle East to Latin America.
Nigeria, the biggest oil producer in Africa, is selling its flagship Qua Iboe crude at a discount of $3.10 a barrel below the Dated Brent benchmark, the largest in at least two decades. Colombia is selling its Vasconia crude at a discount $7.75 a barrel to Brent, a 4 1/2-year low. “The physical oil market looks horrific,” said Kit Haines, an analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd.