Opec considers modest oil output rise

Opec was meeting on Tuesday to consider a modest rise in oil output proposed by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states in a gesture to consumers worried by the economic impact of $77 oil and rapidly diminishing stocks.

But the plan to add 500 000 barrels per day of oil had yet to convince all Opec ministers and discussions were continuing, a delegate said. Venezuela, Algeria and Libya said ahead of the talks they were not in support of increasing supplies.

Others declined comment.

”The majority feel that production is meeting demand. Others believe an increase is needed in the coming months to meet an increase in demand. The maximum that I have heard is 500 000 barrels per day (bpd),” Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said before the meeting.

Opec sources said Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait favoured a small hike. ”But if they meet stiff resistance, they may just drop the idea,” one source added.

Opec, pumping about 30-million barrels per day into the 86-million bpd global market, is trying to make sense of conflicting economic data leading into peak winter demand.

Industrialised consumer nations are forecasting their crude oil stocks will fall to the bottom of the five-year average range by January unless Opec pumps more crude oil, and fast.

United States crude oil is above $77, close to its August 1 record high of $78,77 a barrel, following attacks on oil and natural gas pipelines in Mexico, the world’s fifth largest crude exporter.

But uncertainty over the US economy — last month employers cut jobs for the first time in four years — has cast doubt over oil demand growth in the world’s top consumer.

Unwinding cuts

The views of the Gulf Arab states, particularly the world’s biggest exporter Saudi Arabia, are key to Opec policy decisions. They straddle more than half of Opec’s proven oil reserves and have almost all the organisation’s spare production capacity.

”There is a feeling of changing fundamentals. Some of the ministers are concerned about a tightening of the market,” a second Opec source said.

An increase of around 500 000 bpd on top of current Opec supplies would placate consumer nations without flooding the market and causing a price collapse.

It would also unwind most of the 1,7-million bpd of Opec cuts agreed since October 2006 because the 10 states subject to output restraint are already pumping nearly one million bpd above their 25,8-million bpd limit.

Iraq and new member Angola are exempt.

The position adopted by the Gulf Arab states marked a shift for most. The ministers of Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had all said on arrival in Vienna that crude supplies were ample. Some were concerned credit turmoil stemming from US subprime loans might hit the real economy.

”The ministers are worried about financial markets and also the backwardation in US crude oil futures so it is a very sensitive situation. They want to discuss the market situation carefully,” said Opec Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri.

US crude oil for October delivery costs more than later months, a ”backwardated” price structure that may point to a tight market and encourage refiners to draw oil from their stocks.

Demand forecasts for the final quarter of the year show an increase of up to two million bpd. At the top end, the International Energy Agency sees consumption rising to 88,1-million bpd. Opec puts the figure at 87,08-million bpd.

United States Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman told reporters in Florida on Monday he had encouraged Opec to increase supplies.

”They heard. They were courteous,” he said.

The IEA’s executive director, Nobuo Tanaka, said he too believed extra oil would be needed in coming months. ”We think that the current market is very tight,” Tanaka said. – Reuters

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