• Tuesday, March 05, 2024
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Oil below $100 tightens OPEC budgets, prompts signs of concern


Oil’s slide below $100 a barrel on Monday adds to financial worries for OPEC members, prompting some in the producer group to voice concern about too much oil in the market even if they see the current fall as short lived.

Brent crude fell below $100 a barrel for the first time in 14 months, hit by concerns about slower economic growth and ample supply. Top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia favours oil at $100, which many others in the 12-member group also support.

For now, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries delegates said on Monday they were not alarmed, expecting winter demand to support prices. But signs of concern are emerging about the level of supplies.

“As with concern about the drop in oil prices it was a result of weak demand and oversupply mainly from the U.S., recovery in Libya, Nigeria and Iran,” said an OPEC delegate.

“But the geopolitics is there and cold weather is approaching, which will support prices,” the delegate added.

The United States shale oil boom is inflating global supplies. Within OPEC, Libyan output has risen and Iraqi exports have mostly continued flowing despite conflicts in those countries, while output has edged up in Nigeria and Iran.

Another OPEC delegate said prices were under pressure from too much oil, something some member countries were watching. However most OPEC officials contacted by Reuters continued to see the price drop as short-lived.

“The fall in prices is a temporary thing. They are still within the acceptable range. There is no real worry,” said a delegate from one of OPEC’s Gulf members.

OPEC does not have an official price target and prices still need to fall further to be outside an acceptable zone cited by Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi in June, when he said oil at “$100, $110, $95 is a good price.”

Estimates from the International Monetary Fund indicate that while current prices are comfortable for OPEC’s core Gulf members, they are below levels members including Iran, Algeria and Iraq need in 2014 for their fiscal balance to be zero.

But estimates from Arab Petroleum Investments Corp, a Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries body that finances oil investment, put the break-even level for number one producer Saudi Arabia much closer to current prices at $98.40, and the OPEC weighted average at $104.80.


OPEC has a nominal target to produce 30 million barrels per day and in August, pumped more than that level, according to a Reuters survey, due in part to a rise in Libya.

The group does not meet to review its output policy until November. In any case, meetings have become less of a focus for traders as in the last two years OPEC has left the target unchanged, in effect delegating market management to informal supply tweaks by Saudi Arabia, supported by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf producers could trim supply informally to make room for a further recovery in Libya, an OPEC source said in August. No evidence of this happening has come to light and any cutback is unlikely to happen overnight as the Libyan output gain could easily go into reverse, analysts said.

“They cannot be too jerky in their reactions,” said Samuel Ciszuk, analyst at the Swedish energy agency. “The responsible thing would be to sit tight for a while and hope they don’t see further weakness.”

Gulf Arab oil ministers gather on Thursday in Kuwait for an annual meeting and while this typically does not include discussions on output targets, they may take the opportunity to comment on price levels.

Olivier Jakob, analyst at Petromatrix, did not see current prices as putting OPEC countries’ budgets under strain and did not expect to see any unilateral cuts by Saudi Arabia, given that Riyadh reduced its official selling prices (OSPs) last week.

“I am not sure it is really a line in the sand. At $90 to $100 a barrel it will be fine, but if you go down to $75 it’s another issue,” he said.

“What Saudi Arabia did with the OSPs is significant. I take it as a sign that they want to keep market share and are not planning to cut exports.”