OPEC Plus maintains its oil production plans
When officials from OPEC, Russia and other oil-producing countries met by video conference on Thursday, they had cause for concern. The biggest concerns were whether the emergence of a new variant of the coronavirus could torpedo the nascent global economic recovery and the reluctance of the United States and major Asian customers, including China, in the face of high oil prices.
At the end, the group known as OPEC Plus has decided to take the easy route and stick to a previously agreed upon program of gradually adding oil to the market. It decided to increase its production by 400,000 barrels per day in January, as it has done in recent months.
But to show worried oil markets that they are ready to change that plan if necessary, producers said in a press release their meeting will “remain in session” so producers can monitor the market and “make immediate adjustments. if necessary”.
This The statement, analysts said, was intended to warn traders that OPEC Plus is ready to reconsider its production levels, including possibly cutting supplies, whenever the market looks threatened – even before the next meeting scheduled for the 4th. January.
“It puts a floor under the prices, saying you don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Bhushan Bahree, executive director of IHS Markit, a research firm. “It matches uncertainty with uncertainty.”
This message seemed to be catching on, at least Thursday. Prices fell sharply when it appeared that OPEC Plus would increase production. But they quickly recovered, and later in the day futures were trading up 1.7% to around $ 70.10 a barrel for Brent crude, the international benchmark.
The producers’ decision to keep adding oil to the market for now has also been “a victory for the Biden administration,” wrote Helima Croft, head of global commodities at RBC Capital Markets. President Biden’s aides had pressured Persian Gulf producers to continue ramping up production in hopes of lowering gasoline prices for American drivers.
While many analysts have predicted the group may suspend monthly increases agreed to in July, or even cut production, others said the decision on Thursday made sense. No one knows yet whether the new Omicron variant will prove to be a big blow to the economy, a passing worry, or something in between. A hasty halt to production increases could also have sent a negative signal to the markets about the group’s view on the world economy.
For the moment, the fundamentals of the oil market remain solid. In recent months, strong demand for oil and restricted production by producers have reduced inventories to low levels.
And analysts have pointed out that future demand is likely to hold up at least in the near term. “OPEC members in the Middle East will likely have seen good demand for their crude in January,” analysts from FGE, a consultancy firm, said in a report on Thursday as Asian economies advanced.
Sustaining the planned increase will also likely ease friction with the Biden administration, which orchestrated a planned release of oil stocks from the US Strategic Oil Reserve last month in conjunction with more modest moves by other major oil consumers.
The unusual price rebellion, which included China, Japan, India and South Korea, all major customers of Persian Gulf oil producers, is a worrying development for countries like Saudi Arabia and the United States. United Arab Emirates. It could eventually threaten both their national finances, which are dependent on oil revenues, and their control of the markets.
The planned release of oil reserves, coupled with the impact of the new variant, has lowered prices by more than 17% from the seven-year highs of around $ 85 a barrel reached in October – likely accomplishing a large part of what the White House wanted.
Analysts say lower prices will not only ease tensions with Washington, but also help meet other OPEC Plus goals, including discouraging investment in shale oil drilling. in the USA.
Current prices could also reduce the Biden administration’s incentive to strike a nuclear deal with Iran in the ongoing indirect talks. A sanctions-free Iran could quickly bring significant volumes of oil to market, a potential concern for other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Tehran, such as Saudi Arabia.
Some analysts say OPEC Plus may simply postpone the inevitable cuts in deference to Washington, and that it will have to cut production if it is to protect prices.
“The longer they wait, the more they may need to do,” said Bill Farren-Price, director at Enverus, a market research firm.
Yet for a diverse group like OPEC Plus, sticking to a plan in uncertain times is an easier sell than a change of course.