Deadlocked on oil production cuts, OPEC and its allies to resume talks

Energy

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud speaks via video link during a virtual emergency meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC countries, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 9, 2020.

Saudi Press Agency | Reuters

LONDON — OPEC and non-OPEC allies will resume talks on Thursday to iron out oil production policy for next year, seeking to build consensus over how to tackle weak demand amid a new wave of coronavirus cases.

OPEC and its partners, known collectively as OPEC+, are widely expected to extend oil production cuts of 7.7 million barrels per day through to at least March 2021. However, talks were suspended on Tuesday after it became clear they had been unable to reach a compromise.

Oil ministers from the 23-member group, which is composed of some of the world’s largest crude producers, will reconvene for a virtual meeting from 1 p.m. London time on Thursday to try to find common ground.

In April, after days of protracted talks, OPEC+ agreed to the largest single oil output cut in history. The record cut of 9.7 million barrels per day started on May 1 but was subsequently scaled back to 7.7 million in August and OPEC+ has said it plans further tapering next year.

International benchmark Brent crude futures traded at $47.92 a barrel during morning deals, around 0.6% lower, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures stood at $44.93, down 0.8% for the session.

Both price contracts snapped a multi-day losing streak in the previous session, closing higher on encouraging Covid-19 vaccine news. Oil prices remain more than 25% lower year-to-date.

What caused the impasse?

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia is thought to be the main advocate of keeping the current level of cuts in place until the end of the first quarter. However, some producers have questioned this approach following a sustained rally in oil prices last month.

Analysts believe some non-OPEC allies, such as Russian and Kazakhstan, have been calling for a gradual increase to production curbs, whereas the UAE has ostensibly been pushing for a strategy designed to improve compliance from overproducing countries.

Speculation of a rift between Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier this week came as a surprise to some because of the UAE’s stature within OPEC. It is the group’s third-biggest producer and a close Gulf ally of Saudi Arabia.

Oil pumping jacks, also known as “nodding donkeys,” in a Rosneft Oil Co. oilfield near Sokolovka village, in the Udmurt Republic, Russia, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“Surprisingly this time, it was not a discord between Russia and Saudi Arabia that prevented the group from reaching a clear agreement on whether to delay the planned production increase,” Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy a Saxo Bank, said in a research note.

“Instead a perhaps more dangerous divide, from an OPEC stability perspective, has emerged between Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., two GCC countries that normally speak with one voice.”

Hansen said failure to reach an agreement on Thursday could send oil prices lower “by several dollars,” before adding it is the bank’s view that “cracks will be repaired as anything but an agreement to postpone would be a massive own goal.”

‘Much more difficult to strike a compromise’

Russia and nine other non-OPEC countries have been working with the 13-member group to prop up oil prices in recent years. The group exerts considerable influence over world energy markets, although it is no longer seen as the force it once was.

In recent months, OPEC+ has sought to navigate its way through a historically tumultuous period, including an unparalleled collapse in oil prices, a massive fuel demand shock amid the coronavirus crisis, a Saudi-Russia price war and Qatar’s departure from OPEC.

“OPEC+ controls almost 50% of the global production,” Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in a research note published Thursday. “This privilege, however, comes with a burden (and) it has been laid bare this week.”

“It is much more difficult to strike a compromise with 23 participants, whose targets are not necessarily aligned, than with 13 countries,” he continued.

“Despite disagreements and differing views one thing seems certain: it is in the best interest of all involved to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution – sometimes choosing the least worst option is the only escape.”

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