OIL PRICES COULD RISE
A strong Dubai price in a weak oil market has created a dilemma for top oil exporter Saudi Arabia as it works out official monthly selling prices for December.
The largest OPEC producer is expected to raise the December prices for most of the crude grades it sells to Asia when it notifies customers early next week. A hike would be in line with a strong Dubai market, but traders said that benchmark is not reflecting weak demand and poor refining margins in Asia.
"It's a tricky one this month," said a trader with a Western firm. "They will go up, but by how much, I'm not sure, particularly as they have been very aggressive on securing market share."
Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - in no hurry to cut output despite global benchmarks at multi-year lows - have been competing on their official selling prices as they fight for market share, analysts said.
Saudi Arabia slashed November prices last month, sparking talk of an emerging price war.
For December, the kingdom could raise official selling prices (OSPs) across the board by at least $1 a barrel if it adheres to an informal formula typically used as a guide, a survey of five refiners and traders in Asia showed.
The formula is loosely based on the average monthly changes in the spread between the first and third month Dubai cash prices and refining margins for oil products.
"It's a special situation. If you just call it, there should be a big jump," a trader said.
Cash Dubai flipped into what traders called an "artificial backwardation" supported solely by strong demand from Chinaoil in a market assessment process in Singapore, even as Brent was in contango and has lost a quarter of its value since June.
Prompt prices are higher than those in future months in a backwardated market, indicating strong spot demand. The reverse is true in a contango market.
But Saudi Arabia may raise prices by a smaller than expected margin for December, traders said, as the producer could take into account weak spot demand in Asia, especially after the strength in Dubai snubbed out refining margin gains seen in September.
A slump in naphtha cracks could also cap price hikes for light grades such as Arab Super Light and Arab Extra Light, traders said.
"Refiners hope Saudi will consider not to reflect the distorted window market," a trader with a North Asian refiner said, referring to deals revealed during pricing agency Platts' market assessment process.
Saudi crude OSPs are usually released by the fifth of each month, and set the trend for Iranian, Kuwaiti and Iraqi prices.
Amid increasing signs that Gulf producers are engaged in a price war to compete for market share, Kuwait has maintained a wide discount between the crude it sells to Asia against Saudi Arab Medium for November.
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