These are tough times for the world’s top oil producers: prices are lower, the health of the global economy is uncertain and, even as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries tries to cut production, supplies from other producers, particularly United States, they are growing.
It’s no surprise that the group postponed their year-end reunion. Initially scheduled for last weekend in Vienna, the meeting is now scheduled for Thursday, barring another postponement. The agenda – whether and to what extent production should be cut further – is likely to be unpalatable to many of the 23 members.
The price of Brent crude, the global benchmark, has fallen to around $82 a barrel, from a high of more than $96 this year and $128 at its peak early in the Ukraine war.
It has fallen even as OPEC Plus producers, a larger group that includes Russia, have cut production, but the coming months appear unlikely to give oil producers a respite from this restriction.
After three years of pandemic recovery and solid increases in oil demand, appetite is expected to slow in 2024. The main reasons: China, which accounted for three-quarters of global demand growth in 2023, faces a economic slowdown. Overall economic expansion is expected to be tepid, while more efficient energy use and a growing number of electric vehicles reduce oil consumption. With production expected to increase outside of OPEC Plus, there will be little need to increase producer group output in early 2024 or perhaps longer, analysts say.
Market weakness is putting pressure on Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC Plus, to push to continue and perhaps even deepen production cuts. Saudi Arabia and Russia, for example, could extend into the new year the cuts of one million barrels per day and 300,000 barrels per day that they agreed to last summer. Russia’s cut applies to its oil exports.
Some smaller OPEC producers, including Nigeria and Angola, are being asked to approve lower production limits that better reflect their recent production history, while the United Arab Emirates has received a higher level.
“There’s a good chance the group will agree to some kind of additional cut,” said Richard Bronze, head of geopolitics at Energy Aspects, a research firm.
At the same time, analysts predict that drilling in countries such as the United States, Guyana and Brazil, which are not members of OPEC, is likely to increase production enough to meet the additional global oil consumption that will arise in 2024 and possibly in later years. years.
The International Energy Agency projects that global demand will increase by a modest 930,000 barrels per day, an amount that could easily be met by increases from producers outside of OPEC Plus.
Amid pressure on OPEC, the United States is thriving as an oil producer and will account for 80 percent of the global supply increase in 2023, according to the IEA. In October, the United States pumped 19.8 million barrels per day, about as much as the combined total of Russia and Saudi Arabia, the next two largest producers.
Non-OPEC operators generally have an interest in producing oil quickly to recoup their investments and make profits.
“The non-OPEC project pipeline alone appears sufficient to meet all global demand growth for at least the next few years,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a recent research note.
Iran, an OPEC member that is exempt from cuts because its oil exports have been subject to Western sanctions, is increasing supply. Thanks to what analysts say is a more flexible application of those sanctions, Iran has increased production by 30 percent to 3.1 million barrels per day since 2021, according to figures from the producers group.
Of course, events could alter the forecasts. The picture would be very different if the now-suspended fighting in Gaza spread to the entire Middle East, which has some of the world’s biggest producers around the Persian Gulf along with sea routes that carry its oil to customers.
For now, however, oil traders see little chance of a broader conflict.
OPEC’s influence on markets weakens when non-OPEC countries are better positioned to meet growing demand. OPEC Plus has been forced to make a series of cuts over the past year to support prices and prevent a build-up of oil reserves in tank farms.
The production cut helped lift prices above $90 a barrel for benchmark Brent crude in September, but OPEC Plus has paid a price in lost sales. The Saudis, who have been hardest hit by the cuts, are producing just nine million barrels a day, almost two million less than year-ago levels.
These cuts are also diminishing oil profits that are key to the Saudi government’s budget and its ambitions to invest in non-oil businesses, including the LIV professional golf circuit and Newcastle United, a Premier soccer team. English League.
This month, for example, Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, attributed lower oil sales in part to a 23 percent drop in net income in the third quarter, a $10 billion drop from a year earlier. .
“We’re not far from the point where fees are getting unrealistically low,” said Gary Ross, chief executive of Black Gold Investors, an investment company.
Saudi Arabia is not the only producer under pressure. Abu Dhabi, the oil powerhouse in the heart of the United Arab Emirates, has attracted international partners to increase its production capacity to five million barrels a day, but must maintain output at 3.2 million under the quota set in June for 2024.
For now, analysts say, OPEC members appear to be trying to hold together. After all, $80 a barrel is It is preferable for producers to the market collapse that could result if the Saudis fully opened the taps, as they did most recently in 2020, when prices fell more than 9 percent in one day, to around $45 a barrel.
Not reaching a deal is “a risk that OPEC Plus cannot afford to take,” said Homayoun Falakshahi, an analyst at Kpler, a research firm.