Saudi Arabia Unexpectedly Lifts Key Oil Price for Asian Buyers

Saudi Arabia unexpectedly raised the price of its key Arab Light crude in Asia in a move that was interpreted bullishly by futures traders.

The state-run Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Saudi Aramco as it’s better known, raised its official selling price for the grade by 10 cents a barrel, lifting the differential to $1.20 a barrel above a Middle East benchmark for May loadings, according to in an emailed price list on Thursday. Refiners and traders had anticipated a 60-cent-a barrel decrease, according to a survey last week.

The kingdom’s prices matter because they set markers for producers across the Middle East, helping to shape what refineries globally pay for crude from the world’s key export region. Major departures from expectations are fairly unusual because they suggest Saudi Arabia may have had a different interpretation of key market data points like refining margins.

Brent crude futures initially rose by about 70 cents a barrel to an intraday high of $68.93 a barrel, before giving up those gains.

Other Saudi Arabian prices moves were more mixed. Thirteen out of 21 compiled by Bloomberg were increased, 7 were cut and the other was unchanged.

Table of countries’ official selling prices for their crude

The other grades that Saudi Arabia sells to Asia — Super Light, Extra Light, Medium and Heavy — were lowered relative to their Oman/Dubai benchmark by between 20 cents and 50 cents a barrel compared with April.

All but one U.S. price was cut relative to Argus Sour Crude Index, the exception being Extra Light, which was lifted by 20 cents a barrel to $3.10. The others — Light, Medium and Heavy — were all lowered by 10 cents a barrel.

Sale prices were raised across the board for customers in the Mediterranean, and mostly increased for buyers in North West Europe.