Oil Price Drop, Iran Sanctions, Election: OPEC's June 14 Top Agenda
Published Friday, 08 June 2012 12:30 | Written by Amwal Al Ghad
Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will hold their first meeting of the year on Thursday and, following steep declines in oil prices and ahead of European Union sanctions on Iran, they should have plenty to talk about.
“A month ago, it seemed like the quota meeting would be pretty boring, but maybe not now,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research and a scheduled speaker at the upcoming OPEC conference.
“The recent drop in prices is causing some pain in countries, like Venezuela and Iran, and they will push for an earlier reduction in production quotas than the Saudis are likely to agree to,” he said.
The cartel’s members are gathering in Vienna for their official meeting on June 14. The election of a new secretary general to replace Abdalla el-Badri of Libya, which could provide a roadmap to the cartel’s next steps, will be closely watched. But more immediate concerns may get the most play.
“The main topic for discussion is no doubt the 15% decline in Brent crude prices in May that brought the benchmark below $100 for the first time in 240 days,” said Kirk McDonald, senior research analyst at St. Louis-based Argent Capital Management.
Brent crude on ICE Futures in London (UK:LCON2) -2.00% closed below $100 a barrel on June 1 for the first time since early October. It finished at $99.93 Thursday, while OPEC’s basket price, a weighted average of oil prices from various oil-producing nations, was at $96.19 on June 5.
Futures prices for West Texas Intermediate crude CLN2 -3.00% traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange have also fallen 14% since the start of the year. They’ve lost 18% quarter to date to $84.82 a barrel Thursday.
When members of OPEC met on Dec. 14, the oil market appeared to have found a sense of balance, with Brent crude trading relatively stable above the $100-a-barrel level during the second half of 2011, despite OPEC’s failure to come to a production agreement at the meeting in June of that year.
In December, members decided to “maintain” the cartel’s total production level of 30 million barrels per day, though it wasn’t clear whether the group was actually maintaining output or legitimizing over-production.
OPEC output has been outpacing the target ceiling, partly because producers are anticipating a sizable decline in Iran oil exports once EU sanctions officially take hold on July 1.
A Platts survey of OPEC and oil industry officials and analysts showed that OPEC members’ output in April was 31.7 million barrels per day, up 320,000 barrels from a month earlier, with Saudi Arabia’s up 50,000 barrels from March to nearly 10 million barrels per day.
The Saudis increased output during the first half of 2012 in part to help replenish global inventories in advance of the pending EU embargo of Iranian crude, said Eric Gordon, equity research analyst at investment management firm Brown Advisory in Baltimore.
While the consortium is currently producing nearly 2 million barrels per day above the collective 30 million barrels per day target agreed to in December, “seasonal summer demand strength combined with uncertainty regarding Iranian crude exports in the very near future makes it difficult to predict a reduction in output among remaining OPEC producers,” he said.
Indeed, with so much uncertainty surrounding Iran, OPEC will have a cloudier picture of oil supply and demand and may decide to do nothing at all with its output level.
“With the EU sanctions against Iran due to come into effect in less than a month and a new round of nuclear talks set for Moscow on June 18 between Iran and world powers, we may see a return to the bullish geopolitical element that pushed [Brent] oil prices up to their highest level since 2008 earlier in the year,” said Dubai-based Kate Dourian, editor in chief, Middle East, at Platts.
Overall, “the potential disappearance of even more Iranian crude from markets will make it hard to assess what supply fundamentals will look like in the second half of the year since no one knows how much oil Iran will be able to sell beyond July 1,” she said.