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Sun 4 Apr 2010 11:51 PM

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Saudi Arabia raises May light crude prices to US and Asia

Saudi Arabia was the fourth biggest exporter of crude to the US last year.

Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest state owned oil company, raised official selling prices for light crude grades for customers in the US and Asia for May. All prices for crude to Europe will be lower next month.

The company increased the formula price of its Arab Super Light crude to Asia the most, raising it by $1 a barrel to $2.10 above the Arabian Gulf benchmark, according to an emailed statement today.

Aramco set the price for its Extra Light crude oil for May loadings for US buyers at a premium of $1.35 a barrel over the Argus Sour Crude Index, 40 cents higher than April. The discount for shipments of Light grade crude to the US narrowed 20 cents to 40 cents below ASCI a barrel.

Saudi Arabia was the fourth biggest exporter of crude to the US last year, dropping from second place in 2008, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration. Canada, Mexico and Venezuela all shipped more crude to the US, the data show.

May marks the fifth month Dhahran based Aramco is pricing crude against the ASCI marker, an index of high sulfur oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico.

The benchmark replaces a West Texas Intermediate crude price published by Platts, the energy information division of McGraw Hill Cos. WTI oil, a lighter, more expensive crude grade, also trades as a futures contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The price of Medium crude to the US dropped 10 cents to $2.20 a barrel below ASCI, while the heavy crude price fell 30 cents to a $3.60 a barrel discount, Dhahran based Aramco said.

Saudi Arabia, the largest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the group’s de facto leader, has led production cuts announced in 2008 to support crude prices.

OPEC decided at a March 17 meeting in Vienna to leave production quotas unchanged. Most OPEC members are exceeding their output quota to take advantage of prices that rallied 78 percent last year.

The Arabian Gulf state was one of four OPEC members with production limits to cut crude production in March, according to Bloomberg estimates.

Saudi Arabia pumped 8.2 million barrels a day last month, 50,000 barrels a day less than in February and almost 200,000 more than its OPEC quota.

Aramco raised the price of Super Light crude to Asia for a second month. Extra Light and Light crudes to Asia rose after three months of cuts and Medium and Heavy crudes priced lower.

Saudi Arabia, which has joint venture refinery projects in China, is seeking to strengthen its role as a supplier to Asia as demand from the US and Europe slipped with the global financial crisis.

The biggest oil exporter agreed in February to raise crude supply to India to 40 million tons a year, or about 770,000 barrels a day, from 25.5 million tons a year, India’s Oil Ministry said in a statement after a meeting between the top crude officials from both countries.

The exporter has supplied full crude volumes to refiners in Asia since December. It lowered prices on most crude grades for shipment to Asia in February, March and April.

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