KOHBAR, Saudi Arabia/LONDON (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco Overseas Company (AOC), a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco, is buying a stake in Rotterdam crude storage from commodities trader Gunvor, the companies said on Thursday, in a move to expand its share of the market in northwest Europe, long dominated by Russia.
Saudi Arabia and Russia have cooperated on production cuts to rebalance the oversupplied oil market and boost prices over the past year.
However, competition for market share has increased over the last few years as U.S. shale production soared, dampening U.S. demand for foreign oil. Saudi Arabia and Russia both produce sour grades that refiners can switch between.
AOC will buy Gunvor’s stake in the Maasvlakte Olie Terminal and the sale is targeted for completion by the end of October, it said in a statement.
Gunvor acquired the storage stake via its purchase of the Europoort refinery in Rotterdam from Kuwait Petroleum in 2016.
Gunvor has two other refineries in Germany and Belgium.
AOC’s investment in the terminal will add to its investment in other facilities in the same area and allow it to expand offerings in the North West Europe refining hub, it said.
As Russian oil made inroads in Asia, the Saudis have responded by taking some of Russia’s mainstay market - northwest Europe. For instance, in 2015, Swedish refiner Preem and Poland’s two refiners began diversifying and taking Saudi crude. Poland has since also taken Iranian oil.
For Gunvor, the sale is part of a general trend by trading houses to move away from holding major stakes in storage as the oversupplied market rebalances.
After largely holding in a steep contango structure since 2014, global oil prices shifted to a narrower one and eventually flipped into a steady backwardation in September.
Contango describes a market structure whereby the price of oil in future months are higher than the front month, making it lucrative to buy and store the oil for a later date. Backwardation describes the opposite structure.
Following the price shift, storage demand has fallen as traders have been steadily selling off the oil that they bought on the cheap.
Reporting by Reem Shamseddine and Julia Payne in London; writing by Maha El Dahan; editing by Jason Neely and David Evans