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RPT-China's Unipec snaps up over 6 mln bbls of gasoil in Feb - data

By Koustav Samanta

(Repeats story issued on Wednesday without changes to text)

* Unipec buys 6.4 mln bbls gasoil during Platts MoC

* Provisionally charters two tankers to ship oil to Europe

By Koustav Samanta

SINGAPORE, Feb 26 (Reuters) - China's Unipec, an arm of Asia's top refiner Sinopec snapped up the lion's share of gasoil cargoes traded in Singapore this month, despite weaker domestic demand amid a coronavirus epidemic, according to trade data and industry sources.

Unipec has bought about 6.4 million barrels of gasoil with a sulphur content of 10 parts per million (ppm) during the Platts Market on Close (MoC) process in Singapore this month, or 77.5% of the total volume of 8.3 million barrels traded in February, the data showed.

The purchases were made even though China has ramped up fuel exports in recent weeks to compensate for losses to domestic demand as it grapples with the virus outbreak, having not been able to prevent a surplus even after refining output cutbacks.

Unipec bought the majority of these cargoes from PetroChina and Trafigura, starting at cash premiums of as high as $1 a barrel to Singapore quotes near the beginning of this month, down to the most recent purchase at a 20-cent premium on Tuesday.

The trader was likely trying to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities and it could ship the bulk of its recent purchases to Europe, three trade sources said.

Unipec was not immediately available for a comment.

The exchange of futures for swaps (EFS), or the gasoil price spread between Singapore and northwest Europe, is trading at around minus $18 per tonne, making it viable for traders to send the fuel to Europe from Asia.

The arbitrage is usually profitable when the EFS trades at about minus $15 a tonne or wider, traders said.

Unipec has provisionally chartered at least two long-range (LR) Aframax-sized vessels, SKS Driva and SKS Delta, to carry 10 ppm gasoil from Asia to discharge in Europe in March, according to a Singapore-based ship-broker and Refinitiv data.

Both vessels can each carry up to 90,000 tonnes of oil, or about 675,000 barrels.

The market structure for 10 ppm gasoil has been in backwardation this year, with the front-month contract being more expensive than subsequent months, making it uneconomical to store the product.

The front-month spread for 10 ppm gasoil in Singapore traded at a premium of 19 cents a barrel on Tuesday.

Also a major gasoil supplier, Unipec, won this month part of a tender to supply Bangladesh Petroleum Corp (BPC) with oil products in the first half of 2020 after placing the lowest offer for up to 450,000 tonnes of gasoil. (Reporting by Koustav Samanta Editing by Florence Tan)