Sharjah oil operator Gulf Petrochem looks east

Gulf Petrochem plans to spend $250m over the next two years to build a pipeline and storage terminals.

By trading smaller shipments more frequently, Gulf Petrochem avoids heavy exposure to a single trade. EPA
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Oil prices may be on the decline from their record highs on fears of a global downturn, but one small trading company based in Sharjah is undeterred.

Gulf Petrochem, which operates a small refinery in Sharjah's Hamriyah Free Zone, plans to spend US$250 million (Dh918.1m) over the next two years to build a pipeline and storage terminals in the UAE, India and Malaysia.

"We will not worry about demand being eroded," said Kalrav Dixit, the trading manager of Gulf Petrochem. "It's just a starting phase for us."

Brent, the European crude benchmark, has fallen back towards $100 a barrel this week on concerns over the strength of global economic growth.

Goldman Sachs has lowered its forecast for oil prices next year by $10 a barrel to account for expectations that growth will be 3.5 per cent instead of an earlier forecast of 4.3 per cent.

"The market volatility does affect everybody. But we try to moderate our risk," said Sanjeev Sisaudia, the group chief executive of Gulf Petrochem. "We have a hedging policy."

Gulf Petrochem does not trade crude oil, concentrating instead on refined products such as naphtha, fuel oil and bitumen, some produced from its two refineries - which together have a capacity of 500 tonnes a day - and some acquired from the open market for onward sale to customers in China and Thailand.

The company also operates a 300-tonne-per-day refinery.

With turnover of about Dh2 billion per year, Gulf Petrochem works on the fringes of an oil market dominated by huge traders such as Vitol and Glencore.

"It's better to be small," said Mr Dixit.

By trading smaller shipments more frequently, Gulf Petrochem avoids heavy exposure to a single trade, he said.

The company's expansion plans include a 4.5km pipeline to allow its Hamriyah storage terminal to take delivery from larger ships that are restricted to the more distant deeper harbour, as well as 1.2 million cubic metres of storage capacity in the emirate of Fujairah.

Smaller additions are planned at ports in Hamriyah, the Indian state of Gujarat and Port Klang, Malaysia.

More traders for Gulf Petrochem are being posted to an office in Singapore to serve Asian markets, and the company has purchased a $5.6m fuel oil tanker to serve new routes and is awaiting delivery of the vessel.

Rental income from tankers has suffered this year amid a glut of vessels, with lease prices for the largest crude carriers reaching negative territory earlier this year.

"This is the right time to acquire some ships, because the market has bottomed out a little bit," said Mr Dixit.

Gulf Petrochem is not alone in investing in vessels. Adnatco-Ngsco,an oil and gas shipping company owned by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has bought 15 ships in the past year, including one delivered this week, and plans to buy more.

"Many of you will ask whether this is the right time to invest in new shipping capacity at a time when the market is at an all-time low," Ali Al Yabhouni, the general manager of Adnatco-Ngsco and the UAE's Opec governor, said this week. "There is a strategic interest in being present across the value chain and to possess the ability to transport our own hydrocarbons to market."