BRITISH PROPOSING PRICE REDUCTIONS FOR NORTH SEA OIL

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LONDON, March 30— The British National Oil Corporation today proposed price cuts for North Sea oil ranging from 50 cents to 75 cents a barrel, retroactive to March 1, clearing the way for the first test of the pricing structure adopted by OPEC early in March.

The state-owned British trading company's proposal, issued by telex to 40 customers, tiptoes along the $30-a-barrel line set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. This line, OPEC has said, could not be crossed by major non-OPEC producers such as Britain without setting off a price war.

The British company has heeded OPEC's warnings with regard to Brent, the standard grade of crude from the North Sea, by suggesting a 50-cents-a-barrel price reduction, to $30. But it proposed a slightly larger cut for lower quality North Sea grades, which together account for 70 percent of production. These would be reduced by 75 cents a barrel, to prices ranging between $28.80 and $29.75.

Little Impact for Consumers

The price cuts would be too small to have any direct effect on the price of oil products sold to consumers. But their acceptance by major purchasers of British North Sea crude, such as the British Petroleum Company and the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, would signal a willingness to stabilize prices at roughly the levels set by the 13 OPEC nations. After OPEC cut its base price from $34 to $29 a barrel in early March, some economists and industry experts suggested that the reduction wasn't enough, given weak demand and the world oversupply of oil.

The major purchasers of British crude did not react immediately to today's price cut proposal. They have been asked to respond by April 8.

''It fits into the recently agreed pattern of prices announced by the OPEC countries,'' a spokesman for the British National Oil Corporation said today. But industry sources said the state-run company was not sure the proposal would be acceptable to Nigeria, Britain's main competitor within OPEC. When Nigeria cut the price of its Bonny Light to $30 a barrel last month from $35, it vowed to match any future British cuts ''cent for cent.''

Nor were the British sure about the reaction of their customers. Some of them have said that market forces required a cut of at least $1.50 a barrel, to $29 a barrel or less, for Brent oil. One customer, the Gulf Oil Corporation, has stopped buying North Sea oil and has stepped up purchases from Nigeria.

''This announcement gets us a lot closer to the day of truth,'' said Anthony Bellingan, an oil analyst at the London brokerage house of Phillips & Drew. ''It's going to be a fascinating week.''

Analysts cautioned that, even if OPEC did not follow the North Sea price move with a new cut of its own, oil users would still not be convinced that price declines had come to an end until OPEC's 13 members demonstrated that they planned to stick to their production quotas, thus helping to bring supply in line with weakened worldwide demand.

Norway is expected to follow Britain's price cut, as it usually does. Total North Sea oil production is estimated at 2.9 million barrels a day. About 2.3 million barrels of that comes from the British sector, with just over half of it going to B.N.O.C. through various royalty and participation agreements.

The British Government has said that the state company must arrive at a market price at which it can sell all its oil and that its proposals were to be commercial decisions, made without Government interference.

However, Sydney Fremantle, Assistant Energy Secretary, was in Lagos, Nigeria, last week with a delegation from the Foreign Office. It is widely believed here that he returned with guidance for the state company on Nigeria's pricing views.

British officials are aware that their country's budget could be distorted by a slump in oil revenues and that the specter of a price war has weakened the pound in recent weeks. And Britain would like to stay on good terms with Nigeria, its largest African trading partner. The situation is politically sensitive because both countries will hold general elections in the coming year.

The new British proposal assumes acceptance of an earlier proposed cut of $3 a barrel, effective Feb. 1, which brought the suggested price of Brent and Forties, the two main North Sea grades, to $30.50 a barrel. Only half of the state company's customers have accepted that proposal; others, including B.P. and Shell, the two companies with the biggest stake in the North Sea, have sought a lower price.

The British National Oil Corporation had continued to pay producers $33.50 a barrel, and now some of the smaller companies, led by Tricentrol, are threatening to sue it to prevent the price cuts from being retroactive over such a long period of time.

Shell is seen by industry analysts as the key to the new British proposal. As the principal recipient of crude from the North Sea's Brent oilfield, Shell is the main loser in the strategy of using Brent as the North Sea reference price for crude and limiting its price cut to placate Nigeria.

Last June Shell succeeded in getting the state company to eliminate a 10-cent lower price, an advantage that had been granted to British Petroleum's Forties field in the North Sea.Today's proposal would restore that differential and widen it by an additional 15 cents a barrel, leaving Forties at $29.75 a barrel.

''If Shell is being inequitably treated, they must have agreed to it in advance,'' said a leading oil trader. A Shell spokesman, however, said company executives had not seen the price proposal, much less agreed to it. Industry sources said top officials of the British National Oil Corporation denied any prior arrangement with Shell.

This is source I found from another site, main source you can find in last paragraph

Source : http://www.nytimes.com/1983/03/31/business/british-proposing-price-reductions-for-north-sea-oil-decline-world-oil-prices.html

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