Saudi Arabia cuts oil prices for Asia, Europe as demand slows, COVID-19 cases surge

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Saudi Arabia cut oil prices for its main market of Asia and for Europe, signaling that demand remains sluggish as economies slow and COVID-19 cases in China surge.

Brent crude futures have slumped from almost $125 a barrel in June to less that $80, with prices dropping another 7.5 percent this week. High interest rates and a strong dollar have weakened energy consumption among businesses in the US, Europe, and China. Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund, this week said she expected one-third of the global economy to enter a recession this year.

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State-controlled Saudi Aramco reduced prices for all types of crude that will be shipped to Asia in February. The company’s flagship Arab Light grade was lowered to $1.80 a barrel above the regional benchmark, $1.45 less than the price for this month. It’s now at its lowest level since November 2021.

The cut was roughly in line with a Bloomberg survey of traders and refiners.

Aramco also reduced prices for shipments to north west Europe and the Mediterranean region. It kept costs for US customers unchanged.

Saudi Arabia sells about 60 percent of its crude exports to Asia under long-term contracts, pricing for which is reviewed each month. China, Japan, South Korea, and India are the biggest buyers. Its moves tend to be closely followed by other Gulf producers such as Iraq and Kuwait.

China reopening

Many oil traders expect prices to rebound in the second quarter as China’s COVID-19 outbreak eases and, potentially, Russian supplies drop due to sanctions related to its invasion of Ukraine.

Last month OPEC+, a producers’ cartel led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, decided to keep crude output steady after lowering it by 2 million barrels a day in October. The group is scheduled to meet next in June, thought it could convene sooner if prices continue to drop.

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