Saudi Arabia’s discount in pricing to Asia is the latest indication that the world’s largest oil exporter is looking to increase flows eastward, strengthening ties in a growing region as it competes with booming U.S. production.
“This fits within a strategy in which the Saudis try to increase their sales to Asian consumers,” Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro Bank NV, said by email. It could help replace some Iranian crude that has been lost to U.S. sanctions, and it allows Asia to take some Saudi oil that would have previously gone to the U.S., he said.
State-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Co. reduced prices on Tuesday for all of the crude oil grades it sells to Asia, while increasing them for U.S. and European buyers. The move comes just days before OPEC and its allies meet in Vienna to discuss the possibility of production curbs. While the price reductions are for January shipments, they follow increased Saudi flows to most major Asian markets last month, as the kingdom raised production to record levels.
Saudi Aramco curbed Asian pricing the most for its Super Light and Extra Light grades, by $2 and $1.50 a barrel, respectively, according to an emailed statement. Since the company increased levels for Europe and the U.S., the reduction to Asia seems “part of a shift towards a stronger focus on growth areas,” Van Cleef said.
It also occurs as the U.S. is pumping a record 11.7 million barrels a day on average, according to the Energy Information Administration.
“With higher U.S. supply there’s more competition in the market, so if you’re focusing on the growing demand market, you need to be more competitive,” said Giovanni Staunovo, a commodity analyst at UBS Group AG.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will consider continuing production cuts with allies led by Russia at meetings this week, though Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih has said it’s too early to say whether an agreement will be reached.
The Saudi discounts to Asia just before the meeting could be an effort to increase ties with Asian customers while taking the edge off any potential price increase later, according to Michael Poulsen, an analyst at A/S Global Risk Management, noting that he was speculating on the reason for lower prices.
“They’re fighting very hard for the Asia market share,” he said by phone.