Saudi Arabia lost market share in more than half of the most important countries to which it sold oil in the past three years, even as the kingdom increased crude output to record levels.
Oil-producing nations including Russia and Iraq are putting pressure on Saudi Arabia in markets it regards as strategically important trading partners.
The world’s biggest oil exporter lost ground to rivals in nine out of 15 top markets between 2013 and 2015, including China, South Africa and the US, according to customs data.
“Saudi Arabia has had a very difficult time selling oil in this environment,” said Ed Morse, analyst at Citigroup. “Its rivals are going into a very crowded market in a very aggressive way.”
Saudi set itself a goal in late 2014 of maintaining its crude market share amid a glut that prompted a collapse in oil prices. It led a landmark Opec decision not to cut output to support prices. But import data compiled by FGE, an energy consultancy, suggest the country’s strategy suffered setbacks in some of its key customer countries last year.
Other data show a limited rise in market share in 2015 compared to 2014, although last year’s figure was lower than that recorded in 2013.
This illustrates the strategy’s perils as low prices and a war in Yemen wreak financial havoc. Riyadh unveiled deep spending cuts in December and is set to tap bond markets for funds this year.
Brent crude, the global benchmark that plunged to a 13-year low of less than $30 a barrel in January, has fallen from $115 in mid-2014 to $39.88 yesterday.
FGE’s data show the Saudi share of Chinese oil imports fell from more than 19 per cent in 2013 to almost 15 per cent in 2015 because of increased supplies from Russia. Share of South African imports dropped sharply in that period, from almost 53 per cent to 22 per cent, as Nigeria and Angola raised shipments. The Saudi share of US imports fell from 17 per cent to almost 14 per cent. It also lost ground in South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and some European countries.
Saudi Arabia remains the largest supplier to many countries, including China and it secured market gains in Brazil, India and Japan between 2013 and 2015.