Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Pressure is building on Saudi Arabia to rein in its oil output after a year of pumping full tilt, setting up the most contentious OPEC meeting in years.
A year ago, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries surprised markets with a Saudi-led strategy of keeping output high to win market share and squeeze presumably weaker rivals in the U.S. and elsewhere out of the market.
But with those rivals proving resilient and prices falling to new lows, members including Iran have decided the effort was a failure and are preparing to press Saudi Arabia directly to pull back on production at the group’s meeting this week.
Discontent is even building inside Saudi Arabia over the strategy. Still, the oil-rich kingdom isn’t likely to relent — in part because it is wary of rising Iranian output as sanctions are lifted. The result is likely to be a continued standoff that keeps the market glutted and prices weak.
Tensions within OPEC have mounted as Saudi Arabia contributes to a global glut of oil with record production levels. Crude prices, weighed down by the oversupply, have averaged $56 a barrel in 2015, down from $97 in 2014, gutting the finances of OPEC members such as Venezuela, Algeria and Angola and threatening their ability to keep up production.
This week, Iran is expected to demand that Saudi Arabia cut back from production levels of more than 10 million barrels a day.
Venezuela, Nigeria and Angola are also expected to force discussions over production cuts.
Saudi Arabia, which long acted as swing producer supporting the market when necessary with output cuts, has signaled it won’t alter course. Its new approach is a long-term strategy designed to force out supplies from non-OPEC producers thought to need higher prices to keep pumping, such as those getting crude from deepwater projects and oil sands.
Privately, Saudi officials acknowledge they too have been distressed by the persistence of low oil prices, which has forced the kingdom to spend down some of its reserves of hard currency. They are considering their options “because there is a growing discontent in the kingdom about the low oil price,” said an oil official from a Persian Gulf country.
But Saudi Arabia is unlikely to consider cutting until June 2016 at the earliest, when Iran’s ability to return to the market and the effect on prices becomes clear, analysts and officials say. Answers to questions about demand, especially surrounding an economic slowdown in China, the world’s biggest consumer of energy, will also be clearer then.
Analysts say the kingdom likely has enough of a financial cushion to weather the low oil prices for now.
Another factor keeping prices low, analysts say, is the price war that has broken out among OPEC members. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are offering to pay for the shipping and even insurance on deliveries for customers in Asia, where the competition has been particularly fierce. The competition has also spread to Europe.
Read the whole article: OPEC Is Ready to Rumble Over Saudi Output.