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SINGAPORE: Middle East crude benchmarks fell on Thursday, extending declines for a third straight session, but spot premiums for medium grades held firm, supported by demand for sour grades in Europe and Asia amid OPEC cuts.

Iraq's SOMO has sold 2 million barrels of Basra Light crude for end-February loading at a strong premium of $1.30-$1.40 a barrel to its official selling price (OSP), trade sources said.

Exxon Mobil has likely bought the cargo loading on Feb. 27-28, which is expected to head to Europe, they said.

Tighter sour crude supplies in Europe and competitive Basra crude prices against similar quality Russian Urals have supported Basra's crude premiums, one of the sources said.

CPC bought March-loading Upper Zakum crude via a tender at parity to 5 cents a barrel above its OSP, trade sources said. It was not immediately clear how many cargoes the Taiwanese refiner bought.

ARBITRAGE: Brent crude's premium to quotes for Middle East crude benchmark Dubai fell on Thursday to close to 70 cents a barrel, the narrowest spread between the two grades since July 2017, according to two trade sources and Refinitiv Eikon data.

The narrower price spread will support Asia's demand for crude oil from the Atlantic Basin that are priced off Brent while dampening Asian oil buyers' appetite for Dubai-linked grades from the Middle East and Russia.

Crude oil markets in Europe and West Africa have made a strong start to 2019, as Libyan supply losses and strong demand in Asia offset rising US exports.

Nigeria's biggest crude grade, Qua Iboe, was being offered this week at a $2 per barrel premium to benchmark dated Brent, a 10-month high. In the North Sea, Forties crude reached its highest since October on Monday.

ASIA-PACIFIC & RUSSIA CRUDE: Rosneft issued a tender to sell an ESPO cargo loading on March 11-16. Petronas closed a tender on Thursday to sell 300,000 barrels of Bertam crude for loading on March 26-30.

Copyright Reuters, 2019