TOKYO Iran's crude oil exports in December are set to fall 8 percent from November to a five-month low, a source with knowledge of its preliminary tanker schedule said, as lower shipments to China and others in Asia offset bumper exports to Europe.
Iran was exempted from last month's OPEC deal to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) starting from January, and had been expected to boost its output slightly.
But Iran's December crude exports excluding condensate are set to fall to 1.88 million bpd, from 2.04 million bpd in November, the source familiar with its export situation said. That may be a sign it is having trouble maintaining output after the lifting of sanctions this year led to a surge in production.
Exemption from the deal agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was a victory for Tehran, which has argued it needs to regain the market share it lost under Western sanctions targetting its nuclear programme.
Compared with a year ago, Iran's December crude exports are still set to jump 81 percent as shipments to Europe resumed only in February this year, according to the source.
ASIA EXPORTS TO TUMBLE
Iran exports to Asia this month are set to fall 17 percent from November to 1.11 million bpd, the lowest since February, as major importers all cut their purchases except for India.
Exports to Europe look set to rise 10 percent from November to this year's high of 767,000 bpd, topping levels seen prior to the imposition of toughened sanctions in 2012.
Before the sanctions were enforced, Iran was exporting about 2.2 million bpd of crude each month, with Europe taking about 600,000 bpd, according to the International Energy Agency.
Loadings headed for China in December will tumble 28 percent from November to 400,000 bpd, the lowest since October 2015.
Japan is lifting 134,000 bpd of crude, down 1.6 percent from November, while South Korea is loading 60,000 bpd, half its November volumes.
India - the only major Asian buyer to show growth - will load 517,000 bpd in December, up 12 percent from November and making it Iran's top buyer for the month.
In Europe, Italy and Turkey are both lifting around 190,000 bpd, while Greece and Spain are taking around 97,000 bpd.
Austria is loading about 1 million barrels this month, following its first purchase in years in August.
In addition, another 161,000 bpd is heading to unspecified destinations in Europe.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Tom Hogue)