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Chinese Demand for Saudi Crude Slumps to 5-Month Low

Demand for Saudi crude at Chinese refiners is at its lowest since August after the world’s top crude exporter set the price of its oil for January at levels higher than the market was expecting, trading sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Monday.    

China’s refiners are estimated to have nominated 40 million barrels of Saudi crude for loading in January, compared with around 46 million barrels for December—the lowest total nominations from Chinese buyers since August this year, according to Reuters’ sources.  

The higher-than-expected Saudi prices for their crude going to Asia next month played a big role in the lower nominations, according to traders and analysts.  

Asian buyers could reduce intake of term supplies from Saudi Arabia in January and look to buy more spot crude cargoes after the Kingdom reduced the price of its oil to Asia by less than expected, traders and refiners told Bloomberg last week.

Earlier last week, Saudi Arabia cut the price of its flagship crude, Arab Light, loading in January for Asia by $0.50 per barrel over the Oman/Dubai average, the benchmark off which Middle Eastern crude exports to Asia are priced. While the cut was widely expected by the market and was the first reduction in the official selling price (OSP) of Arab Light for Asia in seven months, it was half of what market participants were anticipating.  

Despite the price reduction, traders and buyers at refineries in Asia see the Saudi price as high.

“Saudi set the price too high. That could prompt some buyers to nominate less cargoes and turn to buy cheaper crude from other suppliers from the spot market,” a purchase manager with a refinery in Asia told Reuters.

However, reducing nominations for Saudi crude under term supply is easier said than done.

“I believe many are thinking about reducing supply volumes. But it's not easy for us to do that,” a trader at a Japanese refiner told Reuters today.

“We need to maintain good relations with Saudi due to energy security concerns.”

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By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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