Arab oil exporters to meet as oil price tops $90, demand is half 2004 levels

Reuters , Thursday 23 Dec 2010

The Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) toconvene in Cairo, on Sturday. They will discuss current oil prices and levels of production, but no supply changes will be announced

OPEC core Ministers arrives Cairo Thursday, to discuss the oil soaring prices. (photo: Reuters)

Ministers of Arab oil exporting countries began arriving in Cairo on Thursday ahead of talks expected to broach how high an oil price the world economy can stand as the market hovers near two-year peaks above $90 a barrel.

A full conference of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries earlier this month elected to make no change to an output policy it has stuck to since December 2008.

Since then oil has maintained a more than 30 per cent rally from this year's low struck in May and this week scaled a high of $90.80, the steepest in two years.

The Organization of Arab Exporting Countries OAPEC brings together the Arab members of OPEC, including top exporter Saudi Arabia, which has traditionally been viewed as a price moderate, along with with Arab non OPEC countries, like Egypt.

Ministers began arriving on Thursday in time for Saturday's meeting when they will not take any formal decision on output, but can still discuss production and price.

Analysts have said the likelihood is OPEC will begin to produce more oil, although first of all by informally pumping in excess of agreed limits rather than through a policy change.

"I think we are going to see more production because oil is above $90," said Patrick Armstrong of London-based Armstrong Investment Managers.

"The market could easily go for $100 because we're starting to see more commodities allocation to preserve the real value of investment portfolios, but I don't think we're going to see scenarios for spikes."

Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said at the start of November consumers were looking for prices in a $70-$90 range.

He later reiterated a view the kingdom has held for two years that $70-to-$80 was the best range for producers and consumers, ensuring enough revenue to generate investment in new supply while avoiding the economic damage that could destroy demand.


But others in the group have pressed for a higher price, arguing quantitative easing and a weakened U.S. dollar that has spurred gains across financial markets mean the oil price strength is partly nominal.

In Quito earlier this month, OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri said OPEC would base any change in policy on fundamentals of supply and demand, rather than price alone.

"If it goes to $100 due to speculation, OPEC will not move," Badri said. OPEC's record output cut of 4.2 million barrels per day agreed in December 2008 leaves plenty of room for informal adjustments.

OPEC members are producing above their quotas. The group's adhesion to its agreed targets stands at a low 56 percent, a Reuters survey found.

Output discipline reached record levels in the first part of 2009 when the producer group worked hard to shore up a market that had crashed down to just above $30 a barrel after hitting the July 2008 record of nearly $150.

An anticipated increase in oil demand next year is expected to take absolute consumption to a new high, but analysts are still careful to draw a distinction between the current market and the protracted bull run that began at the start of the decade and culminated in the 2008 record.

The rate of demand growth next year has been pegged at 1.5 million bpd, a Reuters poll showed, only half the 2004 peak, according to data from the International Energy Agency, of 3 million bpd.

At the same time, OPEC spare capacity is ample at several million barrels per day, and crude inventories in the world's biggest oil consumer the United States are still above year-ago levels, even after a sharp drop reported this week.

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