Saudi Arabia wants oil to stay between $70 and $80 a barrel for now as the world's biggest crude exporter strikes a balance between maximizing revenue and keeping a lid on prices until U.S. congressional elections, OPEC and industry sources said.
After announcing the flotation of Saudi Aramco in 2016, the kingdom began pushing for higher crude prices partly to help maximize the valuation of the state oil company ahead of an initial public offering (IPO), originally scheduled for 2018.
That changed in April when U.S. President Donald Trump put public pressure on Riyadh to keep crude prices in check, wanting to stop U.S. fuel costs rising ahead of the U.S. midterm elections in November.
Now, even though the IPO has been shelved, Saudi Arabia still wants to keep oil prices as high as possible without offending Washington, the sources said. Saudi needs cash to finance a series of economic development projects.
OPEC and Saudi Arabia do not have an official price target and are unlikely to adopt one formally.
"The Saudis need oil at about $80 and they don't want prices to go below $70. They want to manage the market like this," one of the sources told Reuters.
"They need cash. They have plans and reforms and now the IPO is delayed. But they don't want anyone else talking about oil prices now. It's all because of Trump," the source said.
An informal target of $70 to $80 raises the prospect of Saudi Arabia making regular tweaks to its output to influence the cost of crude as the market responds to other factors affecting global supply and demand.
One industry source said it may have done precisely that last week. With Brent heading towards $80 a barrel, Saudi Arabia told the market about an increase in its production last month sooner than it would have usually released such information, the source, who follows Saudi output policy, said.
"The Saudis will probably put a few more dampening signals out, given where prices have gone," the industry source said.