Khaleej Times

Opec has few escape routes from another bear oil market

- Angelina Rascouet, Wael Mahdi and Javier Blas

LONDON — Oil’s back in a bear market and investors remain unmoved by last month’s agreement to prolong supply cuts, leaving Opec and its allies with few remaining tools to boost prices.

As Saudi Arabia, Russia and their allies reduce output, supply that’s beyond their control keeps rising. Libya and Nigeria — Opec members exempt from the curbs — and US shale producers are resurgent, underminin­g efforts to tame a global glut. Prices are back below where they were when the Organisati­on of Petroleum Exporting Countries first struck its historic deal last year.

Cutting even deeper — an idea rejected just a month ago — still looks unlikely. For now at least, the Saudi pledge to do “whatever it takes” to stabilise prices looks like not much at all.

Further curbs could be necessary, but reaching a consensus will be difficult, Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on Wednesday on state radio. A committee meeting in Vienna this week gave only cursory attention to the possibilit­y of deepening the existing cuts, according to delegates familiar with the matter, focusing instead on the problem of rising output in Libya and Nigeria. Russia has indicated on several occasions that it’s opposed to any additional reductions, said one delegate.

“Deepening the cuts is one good option” for Opec’s immediate difficulti­es, but would create longerterm problems, said Hasan Qabazard, the former head of research at the group. “This will come at the expense of Opec’s market share. Do they want to lose share? I don’t think so, because many countries have invested in raising capacity recently.”

Losing markets

Nations that have made the production cuts already appear to be ceding ground as rival supplies grow.

In the US, crude production moves inexorably higher as shale producers, made leaner by the downturn, find they can pump oil profitably at lower prices. Output rose last week to 9.35 million barrels a day, the highest level since August 2015, according to data from the Energy Informatio­n Administra­tion. The pace of US output gains has been more than Opec bargained for, said Iran’s Zanganeh.

The internal strife that earned two of Opec’s African members an exemption from any cuts has eased. Libya is now pumping about 900,000 barrels a day, the most in four years, an official at the National Oil Corp said earlier this week. In Nigeria, a major export terminal restarted after a 15-month halt caused by sabotage and will ship about 250,000 barrels a day this month.

“Opec will need to offset whatever incrementa­l supply the market gets from Libya and Nigeria,” said David Fyfe, global head of research at oil trading house Gunvor Group Ltd in Geneva.

Next year, new oil supplies from Opec rivals, chiefly the US, will be more than enough to meet demand growth, the Internatio­nal Energy Agency said last week. As a result, demand for the group’s crude will be about 200,000 barrels a day lower than this year, the agency said.

If producers chose to overlook these downsides and pursue deeper cuts, or the inclusion of Libya and Nigeria, it might not be easy.

West Texas Intermedia­te crude, the US benchmark, was 4.6 per cent lower on the week at $42.69 a barrel at 8.06am London time, the fifth consecutiv­e weekly drop.

“The market is probably hoping Opec will do more, but not expecting it — otherwise oil prices wouldn’t be falling,” said Jens Pedersen, an analyst at Danske Bank. — Bloomberg

 ?? — Reuters ?? US output rose last week to 9.35 million barrels a day, the highest level since August 2015.
— Reuters US output rose last week to 9.35 million barrels a day, the highest level since August 2015.

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