OPEC discounted last week’s $90 oil price and kept its output targets unchanged Saturday, betting supplies in storage and a fragile global economic recovery will prevent crude from surging.
Supply and demand are “in balance,” and $70 to $80 is “a good price” for oil, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said at the group’s meeting in Quito, Ecuador. OPEC forecasts demand growth will slow as the economy struggles to recover, amid ample supplies, according to a group statement.
“The issue they looked at was whether $90 is a blip or a trend,” said Bill Farren-Price, founder of consultant Petroleum Policy Intelligence, based in Winchester, U.K. “They’ve taken the view that there are one-off factors such as the cold snap, a weak dollar, that won’t be sustained in the new year.”
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has kept production limits at 24.845 million barrels a day since December 2008, when it announced the biggest reduction in output quotas ever as demand collapsed and prices plummeted at the onset of the global recession. Crude tumbled more than $100 in the latter half of 2008 to $32.40 a barrel.
Oil prices jumped to the highest level since October 2008 last week on cold-weather forecasts for the U.S. and Europe and speculation the U.S. may extend stimulus measures, causing the dollar to weaken. A declining dollar boosts the appeal of commodities as an alternative investment.
Crude futures fell 58 cents Friday to $87.79 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since Dec. 1. The contract touched $90.76 on Dec. 7. Futures dropped 1.6 percent last week, while they’ve risen 24 percent from a year ago.
“The market is better than before, but it’s not good because the growth rate of the global GDP is low,” Iranian Oil Minister Masoud Mir-Kazemi said.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development cut its 2011 global growth forecast last month to 4.2 percent from 4.5 percent in May, predicting a “soft spot” as stimulus spending fades before investment spurs a 2012 revival.
“Right now the market is very comfortable for consumers,” OPEC Secretary-General Abdulla El-Badri said. There is “plenty of oil” in the market, and OPEC won’t act to raise production until those levels decline. Compliance with the quotas is about 60 percent, he said.
OPEC has 6 million to 7 million barrels a day of spare capacity, El-Badri said. OPEC supplies about 40 percent of the world’s oil.
The International Energy Agency said Dec. 10 that global oil supply rose by 400,000 barrels a day to 88.1 million barrels a day in November, its highest-ever level, largely on increased non-OPEC production. Global output is up by 1.6 million barrels a day from the year before. Half of that amount comes from non-OPEC producers, the Paris-based group said in its monthly Oil Market Report.
“The market is well supplied and it doesn’t require a price of above $90 a barrel,” Edward Morse, head of commodities research at Credit Suisse Group AG in New York, said in an interview.
Global oil demand growth was forecast to slow to 1.6 percent in 2011 from 2.8 percent this year, according to the IEA.
The “increase in the annual average oil demand in 2011 is likely to be lower than in 2010,” according to the OPEC communiqué. Lower demand will accompany “challenging risks to the fragile global economic recovery, including the adverse effect of possible currency conflicts and fears of a second banking crisis in Europe, all of which would negatively impact on oil demand.”
Europe’s debt crisis has prompted rescues of Greece and Ireland this year and European leaders are now debating plans for a permanent financial backstop. The European Central Bank has stepped up buying bonds from the region’s most-indebted countries to prevent the market rout from spreading.
Oil prices will rise to $100 a barrel next year, a “fair” price for both producers and consumers that would make up for the dollar’s weakness, Venezuelan Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said. Prices “are recovering, the economy is showing a slow but sure recovery so we should get to those levels at some point next year.”
OPEC’s 12 members are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. Iraq is exempt from the quota system. The next scheduled meeting is in June at OPEC’s Vienna headquarters.
“If they start producing significantly more, they implicitly or explicitly start sending a signal to the market that they want to dampen down prices,” said Mike Wittner, head of oil market research at Societe Generale SA in New York. “They seem to have enough oil, inventories are still high and crude stocks particularly in the U.S. are still quite ample.”
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