Rebel attack on world’s largest crude terminal sends oil prices surging

By Sharon Cho on 3/8/2021
Ras Tanura refinery, Saudi Arabia
Ras Tanura refinery, Saudi Arabia

SINGAPORE (Bloomberg) – Oil surged above $71 a barrel in Asian trading after Saudi Arabia said the world’s largest crude terminal was attacked, although output appeared to be unaffected after the missiles and drones were intercepted.

Futures in London jumped as much as 2.6% at the open after rising 4.9% last week. The kingdom said a storage tank at Ras Tanura in the country’s Gulf coast was attacked on Sunday by a drone from the sea. The terminal is capable of exporting roughly 6.5 million barrels a day -- nearly 7% of oil demand -- and as such one of the world’s most protected installations.

The attacks follow a recent escalation of hostilities in the Middle East region after Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched a series of attacks on Saudi Arabia. The new U.S. administration has also carried out airstrikes in Syria last month on sites it said were connected with Iran-backed groups.

Oil climbed last week after Saudi Arabia and OPEC+ made a surprise pledge to keep output steady in April, accelerating a rally this year that has seen prices surge more than 35%. The move prompted a raft of investment banks to raise their price forecasts, with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimating global benchmark Brent will top $80 a barrel in the third quarter.

The Sunday attack is the most serious against Saudi oil installations since a key processing facility and two oil fields came under fire in September 2019, cutting oil production for several days and exposing the vulnerability of the Saudi petroleum industry. That assault was claimed by the Houthi rebels, although Riyadh pointed the finger at Iran.

“It’s a perfect mix of bullish news at the moment,” said Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING Bank NV in Singapore. “It does seem that these attacks are picking up in frequency, so the market may need to price in some risk premium.”

Prices:

  • Brent for May settlement gained 2.2% to $70.87 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange at 8:46 a.m. Singapore time after reaching $71.16 earlier, the highest since January 2020.
  • West Texas Intermediate for April delivery added 2.2% to $67.54 on the New York Mercantile Exchange after surging 3.5% in the previous session.
  • Brent’s prompt timespread at 68 cents a barrel in backwardation, a bullish market structure where the front-month contract trades higher than later shipments. It averaged about 58 cents last week.

Bullish Chinese export data and the outlook for U.S. stimulus also supported oil and other markets in Asia. President Joe Biden is on the cusp of his first legislative win with the House ready to give passage to his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan, the second-biggest economic stimulus in American history.

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