• Arab Light crude discount to Asia cut 10 cents a barrel
  • Summer driving season in U.S. starts in May with Memorial Day

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, raised pricing for all May sales to the U.S., before the start of the driving season which usually perks up gasoline demand.

State-run Saudi Arabian Oil Co. increased its official selling price for May Light, Medium and Heavy sales to U.S. buyers by 40 cents a barrel, the company said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. Extra Light crude will sell at a premium of $2.60 a barrel to the regional benchmark, 75 cents higher than the differential in April. For the U.S., the benchmark is the Argus Sour Crude Index.

U.S. refineries operated at 90.4 percent of capacity in the week ended March 25, up 2 percentage points from the week before, according to the Energy Information Administration. American refiners typically increase utilization rates in April as they prepare for the summer peak driving season beginning in May.

“The U.S. is a case of gasoline demand staying very strong,” Olivier Jakob, managing director of Petromatrix GmbH, said by telephone from Washington. “Crude import requirements are higher than last year because refinery demand is strong.”

Brent crude prices climbed 35 percent from a January low after Saudi Arabia and Russia proposed a production freeze. Saudi Arabia and otherOrganization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members will meet with Russia on April 17 in Doha to discuss the proposal.

Saudi Aramco, as the state-owned company is known, lowered pricing for Arab Light crude to Asia by 10 cents a barrel to 85 cents below the regional benchmark, matching the expectation in a Bloomberg survey of six refiners and traders. The company widened the discount for Arab Heavy crude to Asia by 35 cents a barrel to $3.65 less than the benchmark, and raised the pricing level on Extra Light crude to Asia, Northwest Europe and the Mediterranean region.

Middle Eastern producers are competing increasingly with cargoes from Latin America, North Africa and Russia for buyers in Asia, its largest market. Producers in the Persian Gulf region sell mostly under long-term contracts to refiners. Most of the Gulf’s state oil companies price their crude at a premium or discount to a benchmark. For Asia, the benchmark is the average of Oman and Dubai oil grades.

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