'The Saudis do not have as much clout as the market gives them credit for'

After Saudi Arabia-led OPEC voted to not cut production last Thanksgiving, analysts suggested that the Kingdom’s strategy was aimed at curtailing US shale.

But when it comes to oil, the US might not be Saudi Arabia’s biggest competition.

That’s because the Kingdom must worry about defending its market share from other OPEC and non-OPEC countries in important growth regions such as China and India.

“The Saudis do not have as much clout as the market gives them credit for,” RBC Capital Markets commodity strategist Michael Tran wrote in a note to clients. “The ability to execute their new energy strategy diminishes as competing countries, such as Iran and Iraq, ramp up production.”

“The Saudis are certainly concerned about defending market share, particularly given that the battle in key growth regions such as China and India is becoming increasingly crowded,” he added.

Since 2010, Beijing has increased crude imports by 2 million barrels per day — a coveted market share that was captured by Russia, Iraq, and Oman ahead of the Saudis, according to data from RBC Capital Markets.

“Given the term deals that Russia has signed with China, along with the further expansion of the ESPO pipeline, it seems likely that Russia will continue to grow market share in the region,” Tran argues.

And this summer Nigeria temporarily overtook the Kingdom as the largest crude exporter to India.

All that’s not even factoring Iranian oil, which analysts believe will be primarily directed at the Asian market.

“[T]he potential lifting of Iranian sanctions intensifies the battle for Asian market share among the Iranians, the Saudis, the Russians, and the rest of the Middle East countries that are vying for that pieces of the market,” writes Tran.

“The Iranians have held roughly 8% of Chinese market share in the years since oil sanctions were implemented, which compares to pre-sanctions levels closer to the 15 — 18% range, ” writes Tran. “The Iranians will very likely price aggressively in an attempt to win back lost market share.”

“Simply put, [the Kingdom has] to compete for market share alongside everyone else, and that battle, particularly in Asia, is closer to the beginning than it is to the end,” according to Tran.

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