OPEC and Its Allies Agree toGradual Increases in Oil Production

OPEC and its allies, including Russia, announced on Thursday they would gradually increase oil production over the next three months.

In agreeing to modest output increases, Saudi Arabia appears to have yielded to pressure from Russia and other producers who are eager to raise output. They want to take advantage of what they see as a likely growing global thirst for oil as economies slowly expand after pandemic lockdowns.

The group, known as OPEC Plus, has been withholding eight million barrels a day from the market.

On this occasion, the Saudis “decided to go with the consensus of the members,” said Helima Croft, a commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank.

A call on Wednesday from the new U.S. secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, to Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, may also have had some impact, although the Saudi official denied that the oil markets had been discussed.

“We reaffirmed the importance of international cooperation to ensure affordable and reliable sources of energy for consumers,” Ms. Granholm wrote on Twitter.

Under the agreement, OPEC Plus will increase production by 350,000 barrels a day in both May and June and by 441 thousand barrels a day in July. Over the same period, Saudi Arabia will gradually unwind additional cuts of one million barrels a day that it has been making voluntarily.

Prince Abdulaziz said during a news conference after the meeting that OPEC Plus wanted to test out increased production but would still be able to change plans if demand failed to materialize.

“We can freeze; we can increase; we can decrease,” he said.

For now, the oil market has accepted the prospect of increases that would amount to less than 1 percent of global consumption per month. Larry Goldstein, an oil analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, said that the approach to relaxing cuts was “very modest and conservative” and would tend to bolster prices over the coming months.

In addition, Ms. Croft said, OPEC’s willingness to increase output is seen as a vote of confidence in the global economic recovery.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose by 2.6 percent to $64.26 a barrel on Thursday, while West Texas Intermediate crude rose by 3 percent to $60.94 a barrel.

Prince Abdulaziz has been the main voice for restraint in lifting production, warning of risks of swamping a still weak market. Some analysts also say that the Saudis are aiming for higher price levels.

In remarks at the beginning of the meeting, the prince seemed to argue for keeping the current production restrictions, which are holding an estimated eight million barrels a day of oil, or about 9 percent of global consumption, off the market.

“The reality remains that the global picture is far from even, and the recovery is far from complete,” said the prince, who is the chair of the meeting of the group, known as OPEC Plus.

France’s reimposition of a national lockdown, announced Wednesday, underlines persistent doubts about the pace of recovery from the pandemic, as have rising case numbers in the United States.

But other producers, including Russia and the United Arab Emirates, have been pushing for increased production.

At the beginning of the meeting, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Alexander Novak, who is co-chair of OPEC Plus, said that the market had “considerably improved” since its meeting last month. He estimated that demand now exceeded supply by about two million barrels a day, a deficit that would lead to a rapid draw down of inventories, potentially leading to higher prices.

Prince Abdulaziz emphasized that he had good rapport with Mr. Novak — a big difference from a year ago, he said, when the two countries clashed in a market-wrenching price war.

“We talk to each other more often than talking to our own families,” the prince said.



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