London: Saudi Arabia steeply cut its January oil prices for Asian and US buyers on Thursday, a move some analysts said showed it was stepping up a battle for market share a week after refusing to support Opec output cuts.
Official Selling Prices (OSPs) for oil from the largest producer and exporter in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have been eagerly watched by the market in recent months for indications of the kingdom’s oil policies.
Some analysts have said sharp drops in OSPs over the past months are an indication the kingdom is fighting for market share with other producers, but others have said the OSPs only reflect the market and are a backward-looking rather than a forward-looking indicator.
“(The) Saudis are making it clear they don’t want to lose market share,” Richard Mallinson, an analyst at consultancy Energy Aspects, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers last week blocked proposals from some other Opec members, such as Venezuela and Algeria, to cut output to support oil prices, which have plummeted by over a third since June.
Opec sources have said Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi told the Opec ministerial meeting held behind closed doors that Opec should defend its market share as production cuts would only boost rival producers, including US shale oil.
According to sources Naimi also didn’t give any indication how far prices would need to fall for Saudi Arabia to consider cutting production.
On Thursday, Brent crude prices declined modestly to trade below $70 per barrel.
Aramco cut its January price for its Arab Light grade for Asian customers by $1.90 a barrel from December to a discount of $2 a barrel to the Oman/Dubai average.
The Arab Light OSP to the United States was set at a premium of $0.90 a barrel to the Argus Sour Crude Index (ASCI) for January, down 70 cents from the previous month.
Arab Light OSPs to Northwest Europe were raised by 20 cents for January from the previous month to a discount of $3.15 a barrel to the Brent Weighted Average (BWAVE).
The release of OSPs on Thursday caused some confusion as after the initial email with prices another email followed saying Saudi Aramco was recalling OSPs.
A third email later followed saying the second email didn’t mean to recall the first email but was attempting to remove duplication.