LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) – Angolan crude set to load in June was down to its last few cargoes by Friday, traders said, but struggled to find buyers as China had already made its purchases earlier in the month and European refiners awaited lower prices.
* The market was keenly watching the tightening of U.S. sanctions on Iran and was strategizing on how to replace those barrels, with West African oil standing by to help fill the gap.
* Amid the tight market, energy majors were heard to be keeping and refining some of their own equity rather than marketing it.
* With U.S.-China trade tensions ramping up, market players wondered whether Iran’s top buyer Beijing might buck the U.S. sanctions and whether top exporter Saudi Arabia would pump more.
* The Iranian shortage stands to put heavier Angolan streams like Dalia in yet higher demand and leaves others like Girassol less affected.
* A preliminary programme for July loading was expected before the end of the coming week.
* Chinese buyers were understood to have done most of their purchases earlier in the month, at the same time U.S. demand for heavier Angolan oil has been up amid U.S. sanctions on comparable Venezuelan grades.
* European buyers were not snapping up the last remaining cargoes, and the delay was ascribed to refiners seeking out particular grades and at lower prices.
* Sales did not appear to be picking up swiftly as around 25 or more June loading cargoes were heard to remain, despite higher European gas cracks and an uptick in U.S. imports ahead of peak driving season.
* A force majeure by Total affecting Nigeria’s Amenam stream was heard to be causing major loading delays of around 25 days.
* This is in addition to another outage since Monday caused by a leak on the Nembe Creek Pipeline loading the major Bonny Light grade, which caused much less severe delays.
* Major buyer India was heard not to have significantly stepped up purchases despite having been Iran’s number two customer.
* With North Sea exports down and refineries cutting runs, European buyers were keeping an eye on Russian and Mediterranean crude grades over West African.
* The smaller North Sea programme and the contamination of large amounts of Russian crude was not seen to be majorly affecting the West Africa market, which unlike those varieties trades on a later time scale.
* The Sinopec Group and China’s CNPC, the country’s top state-owned refiners, are skipping Iranian oil purchases for loading in May after Washington ended sanction waivers to turn up pressure on Tehran.
* After a series of unexpected market moves, heavy, sour crude oil processed by U.S. refiners has become more expensive, eating up hoped-for profit windfalls before they even materialized, forcing refiners to rethink plans to invest more in heavy crude processing units.
Reporting by Noah Browning; editing by Emelia