Saudi Arabia: 'No need to change oil output'

Oil heavyweight Saudi Arabia set the tone on Sunday on the eve of an Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) meeting on prices and production, saying there is no need to change present output at least for the first quarter of 2006.

Opec is currently pumping about 30-million barrels a day of crude, a third of world demand. Most of the organisation’s 11 countries are producing flat-out to meet strong and growing demand from the United States, China, India and other nations.

The Saudis account for nearly a third of Opec output. Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi said on arrival for Monday’s conference that his country’s production this month was at 9,5-million barrels a day.

“Most probably there is no need to do anything to the ceiling or the level of production,” Naimi said, when asked whether the oil ministers would cut or increase their share of the market.

Pressed on what his preferred price range is, he said: “I have always maintained that prices are determined by the market.”

Other Opec ministers have spoken of a floor as low as $35 a barrel before the organisation would feel compelled to slash output and bolster prices.

The recent rebound in crude prices to about $60 a barrel was driven not by lack of crude but by US cold weather and a corresponding spike in natural-gas prices, said Naimi.

As to his outlook on the traditionally weaker second-quarter demand period, Naimi said: “Let us first get through the fourth quarter of 2005 and the first quarter of 2006 and then we will tell you.”—Sapa-AP

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