Oil traders like Lukoil share pain of Venezuela's 6,000-pct gas hike
By Marianna Parraga
HOUSTON Feb 18 (Reuters) - Venezuela's motorists, who have long enjoyed the cheapest gasoline in the world, are not the only ones likely to rue President Nicolas Maduro's decision to raise prices for the first time in almost two decades.
Firms including Indian refiner Reliance, Russian oil giant Lukoil and independent traders Trafigura and Noble Group also risk losing out on the billion-dollar-a-year business of supplying costly, high-octane blending components that make up as much as a fifth of the nation's supply.
While a founding member of OPEC, Venezuela increasingly relies on imports of specialized products such as alkylate, MTBE and reformate to oxygenate and increase the octane level of domestically produced gasoline, which tends to be poor quality due to high amounts of sulfur, olefins and aromatics.
Its dependence has grown since 2012 due to reduced output of components following a big explosion at its largest refinery, Amuay, as well as rising consumption of the premium 95-octane gasoline - the price of which, in real terms, was essentially the same as lower-grade fuel due to soaring inflation. This has prompted more and more Venezuelans to top up with premium gas.
In the United States, premium grades are as much as 50 cents a gallon higher, reflecting the costlier components, and high-octane fuel makes up about one-tenth of retail pump sales.
On Wednesday, Maduro changed that policy with enormous price increases meant to address the huge cost of subsidizing fuel, which it can now scarcely afford as the collapse in oil prices has hit the economy, slashing income from exports.
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