British Oil Sells January Output at $2 Discount

From Times Wire Services

British National Oil Corp. has sold at spot-market prices virtually all of the 800,000 barrels per day of crude oil that it has available for January delivery, oil industry sources said Monday. That would amount to a price cut of about $2 per barrel from its previous official level.

BNOC officials declined to comment on the reports. The national oil company, which buys 51% of Britain's output of North Sea oil, has not yet set an official January price for its suppliers and is playing a tense waiting game with its larger rival, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which has been attempting to shore up prices by reducing production.

Some sources said they do not believe that, under current market conditions, BNOC will be able to return to its traditional method of setting prices on a three-month basis.

In the last quarter of 1984, BNOC set an official contract price of $28.65 for a barrel of its main crude, Brent blend. But with world oil prices sagging, that price became ineffective, the sources said.

BNOC and Norway's state oil company said last month that they might in the future announce their price to suppliers monthly rather than quarterly and might relate it to spot rates, now far below official levels. BNOC has lost money in recent months because it has had to sell contract oil on the free market.

OPEC, accustomed to dictating the world level of pricing, has threatened an all-out price war with the North Sea producers if they do so and is trying to shore up rates by limiting output.

The industry sources said BNOC had not decided on the formula it would use, but they said that all but one or two of its former customers had now ended earlier contracts.

"There are virtually no contract customers at present and oil is being moved at market-related prices," one source said. "There is no official price for North Sea oil."

The sources said BNOC is not likely to announce its price before OPEC's price-setting differentials committee meets later this month and could leave a decision until after a full OPEC conference is held, probably at the end of January.

"One could carry on on this basis forever and a day," one source said.

Meanwhile, the oil-rich Persian Gulf sheikdom of Qatar, a member of OPEC, reportedly cut the price of some of its crude oil grades by 25 cents a barrel.

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